SEATTLE — The latest offering from Pixar has a lot to say about growing up, mother/daughter relationships, Chinese culture, and early 2000’s boy bands.
“Turning Red” is a sweet, vibrant, funny coming-of-age story about a 13-year-old Chinese Canadian named Mei. Set in Toronto in 2002, she’s a devoted daughter and confident middle school student with a tight friend group — until the day she discovers she has a crush on a boy.
As her emotions and hormones uncontrollably rush in, Mei turns into a giant red panda — a literal transformation conveying the metaphorical way writer/director Domee Shi views puberty.
The film blends anime with 3-D animation as seamlessly as it balances powerful messages with catchy boy band music (written by GRAMMY winners and siblings Billie Eilish and Finneas.)
Entertainment reporter Kim Holcomb talked to Shi, actresses Rosalie Chiang (Mei) and Sandra Oh (Mei’s overprotective mom Ming,) and producer Lindsey Collins.
HOLCOMB: "This one hit home extra hard for me because my daughter, who is named Mae, is also 13."
OH: “Oh my gosh!”
HOLCOMB: "What part of this resonated the most with you?"
CHIANG: "This is literally my life. (laughter) Besides the fact she turns into a giant red panda, it might as well be. I worked with Pixar from 12 to 16… I was coming of age in my life as Mei does throughout the film."
OH: "It's such an authentic story. It's just hard when they grow up. A mother's love, you can only experience it as you go through it."
HOLCOMB: "Domee, how much of this was your life? How autobiographical is this film?”
SHI: “The character and the personality of Mei is definitely me when I was that age. I was dorky, obsessive, sassy... I was vice president of the anime club in high school. Super cool. Went through puberty, became big and hairy and hungry all the time, fighting with my mom every other day, and this movie is just me trying to go back in time and unpack what was going on there."
HOLCOMB: "Sandra, at age 13 what boy band, musician, or celebrity would you have done anything for?"
OH: "In middle school, I was right at the time of Duran Duran. I had pictures of them on my wall. So that's all I can say, definitely Duran Duran.”
HOLCOMB: “The notion of female friendship is also a really interesting theme in this."
OH: "Those of us who are lucky enough to have friendships that go through our entire lives, it's a very special thing. I've been lucky enough to have those relationships in my life and I'd say it's about six of us, the girlfriends I've had through primary school, so these are relationships that are plus-40 years. I feel like the perspective of storytelling on female friendships has deepened and become more authentic probably because the people who are exploring female friendships are actually women telling the stories. It's moved from my time in my generation about girls who don't like each other or are kind of catty with each other, to Mei's squad of friends who love each other, who cry together and lift each other up and support each other, who love having fun and being dorky or being crazy. And I think that's much more authentic and real to what female and girl friendships are."
HOLCOMB: "Can we talk about the mouthwatering food in the movie? Are you just trying to make audiences super hungry?"
SHI: "Yes. Yes! In Chinese culture — and I think in a lot of cultures — food is the language of love. It also was a great opportunity to celebrate the Chinese dad and how a lot of Westerners don't know that Chinese dads cook as much as Chinese moms, too."
HOLCOMB: "The red panda is a great way to describe puberty. I'm curious — what would the animal be for pre-menopause?”
COLLINS: “Dude, dude, I don't even know. I feel you. (laughter) I don't know.”
SHI: “A sun bear?"
COLLINS: “Are they always startling themselves awake in a pool of sweat?”
SHI: “This is ‘Turning Red Two,’ happening right here.”
“Turning Red” is rated PG and debuts on Disney+ Friday, March 11.
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