This weekend will see the premiere of Turning Red, the latest animated film to be released by Pixar. The comedy film introduces audiences to Mei Lee (voice of Rosalie Chiang), a confident, dorky 13-year-old torn between staying her mother's dutiful daughter and the chaos of adolescence. Her protective, if not slightly overbearing mother, Ming (voice of Sandra Oh), is never far from her daughter-an unfortunate reality for the teenager. And as if changes to her interests, relationships and body weren't enough, whenever she gets too excited (which is practically always), she "poofs" into a giant red panda.
At the center of Turning Red's unique story are director and co-writer Domee Shi and producer Lindsey Collins, both of whom had instrumental roles in bringing the heartfelt coming-of-age story to life. Ahead of the film's premiere, ComicBook.com got a chance to chat with Shi and Collins about its various female relationships, casting Chiang in the lead role, mix CDs, and more.
ComicBook.com: What has it been like for you both to see the response to the film thus far? Even the 4*Town song that has already been released, I know so many people have been loving that.
Domee Shi: It's been amazing. We had our premiere in LA last night in the theater, and just hearing everybody laugh and gasp and cringe all together.
Lindsey Collins: Yeah! Like audibly go, "Oh, no!"
Shi: Yeah, or scream when Ming's about to slam the drawings down on the table. It's great. It's why we are in this business.
Collins: Usually by now, at least internally, we would've screened it fifty times with an audience, because you're always watching it at Pixar, even before it gets out into the world. And we just haven't had that experience because of COVID, so we just cherish the ability to sit and watch it and hear other people react to it, because there's been just this void of that, obviously. So it's a blast. I try to go to the people I know and love and be like, "What'd you think?" I can't look at it too much, because it's too hard to hear any criticism about this kid that you have raised. So, I think it's just fun to be able to sit and watch everybody that we know and love, and strangers, watch it too.prevnext
Rosalie is so perfectly cast. She makes Mei so, so amazing. What made her the perfect choice to play the role?
Shi: I know! The quality of her voice is just so unique, and so adorkable, and so special that we just fell in love with it immediately. When we heard her addition tape four years ago, she had a slight lisp, she was very earnest, [and] always gave a hundred percent. Even when she didn't exactly know how to pronounce words, she would say it with full competence. And that felt like Mei.
Collins: Those were some of the best takes, when she would mispronounce a word, but she would just completely commit and say it, like "aphrodisiac."
Shi: It was very cute.
Collins: She'd be so cute. And it was very Mei, that sense of like, 'I'm unapologetic, and I'm just going to say the word. I don't know what it means.' So great.prevnext
For Lindsey, we've spoken in the past about the friend group around Mei, and how central that is to the movie. As someone who has worked at Pixar for such a long, how does it feel to be able to, with this film, showcase female friendship in such a major way?
Collins: It's so good. I think it's so easy to kind of go [with] the stereotypical 'girls not being nice, or being competitive, or mean to one another.' It was so instantly decided that was not the way we were going to represent the friendship in this movie, because, for all of us, we had friendships that were the oasis in the turmoil that is puberty. The ones where you felt like they were the only ones who could understand you at times, and give you the confidence to go to school and face the day, so to speak.
I think it was always something we wanted, but also I love the fact that Domee and Julia, our writer, were so good about making each of them feel distinct. They had different relationships with each other, but collectively, they were like all little parts of a great sum total of an amazing group of friends. And they were just confident in their dorkiness. They weren't popular girls either. That's the other trope, 'We'll present them as a popular girls.' I'm like, 'No they just love each other,' and that was enough. I just really love that.prevnext
Mother and Daughter
The mother-daughter story across the film is just so impactful. I know it's really going to pull in people's heartstrings. What was the driving force behind that story, because it feels so specific and so universal at the same time?
Shi: For me, just representing the mother-daughter relationship and all of its facets — the positive, the negative, and the messy. But also, just how close daughters are to their moms. It's that first relationship that you really form from when you're born. And, for me, it was like super formative. I was really close with my mom, but we also fought a lot, too. I just wanted to show that that is a healthy, normal relationship, and that it's okay that you fight all the time. It's okay to have conflict, that just means that you guys are communicating.prevnext
What trends from the 2000s, are you most excited to have kids discover because of this movie?
Shi: For me, just I want to bring more boy bands back.
Collins: For sure.
Shi: I mean, BTS is doing a great job, K-pop doing a good job, but I want more. Every color of the rainbow.
Collins: I wish you could — I mean, I guess you can do it with playlists and stuff — but just the stuff about making a CD, and the time it would take to make a mixed CD. It was not just 'Okay, select a playlist and then send it away.' It was 'You have to start, and stop, and write down each individual song track on the thing.' And it was such a love letter, when you made one of those.
Shi: And you drew on the CD cover, too.
Collins: Yeah, I don't think it's going to come back, but I wish we could...
Shi: Maybe. It could be the new vinyl, [mix] CDs.prevnext
Are you interested in telling more stories in the world of Turning Red? The way that the film ends feels perfectly set up for some sort of continuation, in one way or another.
Shi: We are open, but we haven't talked about it. But yeah, it's an invitation at the end for more stories.
Collins: Hopefully, at the end of a movie, you've fallen so in love with the characters that you have a hard time letting them go. I mean, as the filmmakers, not even as the audience, I feel that way. I love these characters. I never got tired of them. I was always like, 'Oh, I'd go hang out with those characters again.' I want to see what they're up to. So, yeah. Who knows?