With Turning Red, director Domee Shi revisited her own past to create a story of a young girl struggling with pleasing her family as she comes into adolescence. It’s a story so relatable that Lindsey Collins, who was running Pixar’s creative development at the time, says she practically begged Shi to let her produce the film. Turning Red follows Meilin (Rosalie Chiang), a 13-year-old girl from Toronto who works at her family’s temple to make her mother Ming (Sandra Oh) proud. Due to a family blessing/curse, Meilin finds herself transforming into a large red panda whenever she experiences strong emotions, which is less than ideal for a teenager.


DEADLINE: What was the inspiration for Turning Red?

DOMEE SHI: The inspiration for Turning Red came from my own life. I was Meilin, that dorky 13-year-old girl who struggled with being her mom’s perfect little daughter and dealing with her own inner raging hormonal beast. The movie was an opportunity for me to revisit that tumultuous time in my life, and a lot of people’s lives, when everything’s changing around them and their emotions are a huge rollercoaster and they’re just trying to figure out how can they become themselves while also honoring the people that matter most to them, which is their family.

DEADLINE: What was the partnership between the two of you like?

LINDSEY COLLINS: I was actually running creative developments when Domee started developing this film, so I got the benefit of seeing the very beginning of the germ of this idea, as well as a couple others she was working on. I just kind of jumped out of development and jumped full time on to the film and it was great. I really felt as though the fact that we had this largely female led film really translated to the boldness you see on the final product. We were all channeling some version of our 13-year-old selves and our relationships with our moms.

SHI: I also felt like both me and Lindsey could speak to each of the main characters in the movie, like Meilin and her mother Ming. Having Lindsey in the story room advocating and vouching for the mother character really helped make the film feel more well-rounded and universal and not just one sided from the point of view of this precocious teen girl who just wants to be free.


DEADLINE: That was a refreshing part of the story, where the mom was by no means a villain at all, but it was the dynamic between them that caused conflict.

SHI: It was important for us to depict her not as a villain, but still as a force and a very big obstacle that Meilin has to battle in order to get what she wants, which is 4*Town. So, it was always tricky to balance that nuance of how do we depict a well-rounded empathetic mother character, but also let there be very juicy, slightly uncomfortable conflict. 

COLLINS: I think as a parent, the thing you’re most proud of, but also the most frustrating thing, is when you see character traits in your kids that remind you of yourself, right? It’s the thing that you’re like, “Oh, I totally get that and that is super wrong and annoying and you shouldn’t do that.” There is something really unique about mother-daughter relationships, I think because you see so much of yourself in your kids and they’re making choices and you’re trying your best to kind of influence them, even though it feels overbearing in doing it. So, I think that tension feels very real and it’s not fabricated for the purpose of creating some sort of villainous dynamic in the film. It’s just based on a lot of reality.

DEADLINE: With that family tension in mind, can you talk about the red panda being something that’s passed down and seen as a curse?


SHI: We really wanted to use the red panda as this metaphor for all of the messiness and uncomfortable, raw and big emotions that manifest when we come of age. Throughout time, especially for women, we’re told by society to tamp it down, to get rid of it, to make yourself as quiet, and small, and hairless as possible. For Meilin’s family, this red panda ability started off as a blessing from her earliest ancestors, but then through the ages, and also through immigration and through the family moving to a new place and having to fit in and survive in a new environment, they had to get rid of this wild and messy spirit that they’ve carried with them from their homeland to the new world.

They’ve had to get rid of it in order to survive. So, her grandma, her aunties, her mother, they all went through this ritual to get rid of it, but we’re saying that Meilin is the first in her family to actually embrace her messiness, embrace her differences, and to actually be proud of it. She’s kind of the new hope for her family, but also I think for this newer generation of immigrant kids who don’t have to tamp themselves down like their parents or their grandparents had to do. 

But we’re also not trying to pass judgment on the older generation, because they had to tamp their wild side down in order to survive. The world was a much different place than it is now, it’s hopefully a little bit more accepting now, but we’re also speaking to reality. My parents and my family will love and accept me in embracing my wild, messy side, but they’re also themselves too. So, they’re not gonna throw caution to the wind and release their pandas and just dance in a hippie circle, that’s just not how a lot of Asian parents and families roll, but they’ll love you and let you do your thing. So, that is the reason why Meilin’s family chooses to get rid of their pandas again, but Meilin is the first to really embrace her inner beast and accept it for all of its messiness and flaws.


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