Cover Here are five facts to know about Turning Red (Photo: Pixar/Disney)

Pixar’s first Asian-led animated film Turning Red premieres on March 11 on Disney+. Director Domee Shi and her team recently shared their journey in creating the movie in a press conference—here are five key takeaways

Academy Award-winning director and Pixar animator Domee Shi is back with a brand new film, Turning Red.

Premiering on March 11, the movie marks the Disney-operated animation studio’s first feature-length film where a female filmmaker is the sole director.

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A coming-of-age tale, Turning Red follows the story of 13-year-old Meilin “Mei” Lee, a Chinese Canadian girl who finds herself turning into a red panda when overcome by emotion.

The film is a follow-up to Shi’s 2018 animated short Bao, a seven-minute feature on a Chinese Canadian empty nester who finds renewed purpose when a steamed bun she prepared had come to life. For Bao, Shi took home the 2019 Oscar in best animated short film.

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1. The team drew inspiration from their own experiences

While developing the concept for the film, Shi and the Turning Red team took a trip down memory lane. 

“Like Mei, I’m an only child,” said Shi. “I was always super close to my parents, especially my mum. We did everything together.” 

“Everyone had to tap [into] their inner 13-year-olds to capture the style Domee wanted [for Mei],” said producer Lindsey Collins.

The film explores the complicated dynamic often seen in relationships between mother and daughter—and how this changes through childhood. The storyline also very much mirrors the rebellion that took place in Shi’s own upbringing. 

“​​At the beginning of the movie, Mei genuinely loves her relationship with her mum, but she’s being pulled in new directions—as everyone her age is. It’s a time of big changes,” recalled Shi. 

“I started getting into anime [and] comics; [and] hanging out with my friends more and less with my mum. And she didn’t understand why I was obsessed with these fictional characters with huge eyes and colourful spiky hair.”

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2. ‘Turning into a red panda’ is a metaphor for growing pains

When Mei’s emotions get the better of her, she transforms into a giant red panda. This is symbolic of the transitional moments in adolescence and puberty.

“One minute, everything’s perfect. And then, just like with all of us, all of a sudden, there’s terror everywhere,” Shi said. “The only way [for Mei] to turn back into a human girl is to take deep breaths, calm herself down and control her emotions.”

“It’s about that time in our lives when we’re trying to figure out who we are. We have a girl who is torn between her family and her friends, learning that she’s not at all who she thought she was,” added Collins.

The decision behind using a red panda to represent these growing pains speaks to Shi’s Asian roots—the mammal is native to China and the eastern Himalayas. It also represents the “scary, unadorable, awkward and cringy changes that we go through” in childhood, said Shi.

Read also: Director Domee Shi on Why Boy Bands and Positive Female Friendships Matter in ‘Turning Red’

3. An east-meets-west animation style

The 3D animation in Turning Red, a hallmark of Pixar movies, was given a unique spin. Shi took inspiration from Japanese anime, a passion of hers since childhood.

“I love how fast and loose they play with emotion—how the expressions can change in an instant [in Japanese anime],” said Shi.

Desribed by Collins as “textured, tactile and chunky,” the Turning Red characters’ facial expressions are “pushed to the point that they are caricatured.”

“It just felt perfect for a film about an adolescent girl who’s on an emotional roller coaster with all of the mood swings,” added Shi.

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4. Look out for Pixar’s first original boy band

Turning Red sees the debut of 4*Town, a five-piece boy band created for the film. Singer-songwriters Billie Eilish and Finneas—who voices one of the band members—were commissioned by Pixar to create three original songs for the group. 

“We needed Mei to be obsessed with something that her mum would not approve of,” said Shi. Boy bands are also “the first step into the world of boys for a lot of girls that age,” the director added. 

“In many ways, music shapes our experience at that age,” added executive producer Dan Scanlon.

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5. Girl power and diversity

Mei’s friendships in Turning Red are closely mirrored by Shi’s own circle. 

“It was really important to create a positive female squad,” said Shi in an exclusive interview with Tatler in February this year. “This was directly drawn from my own experience growing up in Toronto and the diversity I saw in my friend group.”

The unwavering support Mei’s group of female friends provide to her is serves as a contrast to the “bullying and mean girls in film and television”, said screenwriter Julio Cho in the press conference. 

“Mei’s friends don’t judge each other or put each other down,” Cho added. “I love emphasising that component of female friendships, because for too long, the narrative has been that we’re competitive, hierarchical and [that] we tear each other down.”

See also: Why We Need to Appreciate the Beauty of Friendship

‘Turning Red’ premieres on March 11, exclusively on Disney+.

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