This weekend will see the premiere of turn red, the latest animated film released by Pixar. The comedy film introduces audiences to Mei Lee (voiced by Rosalie Chiang), a confident and dimwitted 13-year-old girl torn between remaining her mother’s devoted daughter and the chaos of adolescence. Her protective, even slightly overbearing mother, Ming (voiced by Sandra Oh), is never far from her daughter – a sad reality for the teenager. And as if the changes in her interests, relationships, and body weren’t enough, whenever she gets too excited (which she pretty much always does), she transforms into a giant red panda.
In the center of turn redThe Unique Story of are director and co-writer Domee Shi and producer Lindsey Collins, both of whom were instrumental in crafting the heartfelt coming-of-age story. Before the premiere of the film, ComicBook.com had the opportunity to chat with Shi and Collins about his various female relationships, casting Chiang in the lead role, mixing CDs, and more.
ComicBook.com: What has it been like for you two to see the response to the film so far? Even the 4*Town song that’s already been released, I know a lot of people loved it.
Dome Shi: It was amazing. We had our Los Angeles premiere last night at the theater, and we just heard everyone laughing, gasping, and cringing all together.
Lindsey Collins: Yeah! Like saying audibly, “Oh, no!”
Shi: Yeah, or scream when Ming is about to slam the drawings on the table. It’s good. This is why we are in this business.
Collins: Usually by now, at least internally, we would have screened it fifty times with an audience, because you always watch it at Pixar, before it even hits 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 just been this void, obviously . So that’s great. I try to go up to the people I know and like and say, “What do you think?” I can’t watch it too much because it’s too hard to hear criticism about that kid you raised. So, I think it’s just fun to be able to sit back and watch everyone we know and love, and strangers, watch it too.
Rosalie is so perfectly cast. She makes Mei so, so amazing. What made her the perfect choice to play the role?
Shi: I say! The quality of her voice is so unique, so adorable and so special that we fell in love with her immediately. When we heard her addition tape four years ago, she had a slight lisp, she was very serious, [and] always given one hundred percent. Even when she didn’t know exactly how to pronounce the words, she said them with full competence. And that sounded like Mei.
Collins: These were some of the best takes, when she mispronounced a word, but she completely committed and said it, like “aphrodisiac”.
Shi: It was very cute.
Collins: She would be so cute. And it was very Mei, that ‘I’m not sorry, and I’m just going to say the word’ feeling. I don’t know what that means. So good.
For Lindsey, we have already talked about the group of friends around Mei and its importance for the film. As someone who has worked at Pixar for so long, how does it feel to be able, with this film, to showcase female friendship in such a big way?
Collins: It is so good. I think it’s so easy to get there [with] the “girls aren’t nice, or aren’t competitive, or mean to each other” stereotype. It was so instantly decided that this was not how we were going to portray friendship in this film, because, for all of us, we had friendships that were the oasis in the turmoil that is puberty. The ones where you felt like you were the only one who could understand each other sometimes and give you the confidence to go to school and face the day, so to speak.
I think that was always something we wanted, but I also love that Domee and Julia, our writer, were so good at making each of them feel distinct. They had different relationships with each other, but collectively they were like all the little parts of a great total sum of an incredible group of friends. And they were just confident in their stupidity. They weren’t popular girls either. It’s the other trope, ‘We’ll introduce them as popular girls.’ I said to myself: “No, they love each other”, and that was enough. I really like that.
Mother and daughter
The mother-daughter story through the film is so impactful. I know it will really touch people’s hearts. What was the driving force behind this story, because it seems so specific and so universal at the same time?
Shi: For me, simply representing the mother-daughter relationship and all its facets – the positive, the negative and the messy. But also, how close the daughters are to their mothers. It is this first relationship that you really form from your birth. And, for me, it was like super trainer. I was very close to my mother, but we also argued a lot. I just wanted to show that it’s a healthy, normal relationship, and it’s okay for you to fight all the time. It’s normal to have a conflict, it just means that you are communicating.
Trends of the 2000s
What trends from the 2000s are you most looking forward to introducing children to because of this film?
Shi: For me, I just want to bring back more boy bands.
Collins: For sure.
Shi: I mean, BTS is doing great work, K-pop is doing great work, but I want more. All the colors of the rainbow.
Collins: I wish you could – I mean, I guess you can do that with playlists and stuff – but just the stuff about creating a CD, and how long it would take to do a mixed CD. It wasn’t just “Okay, pick a playlist, then send it.” It was ‘You have to start, and stop, and write each individual song track on the thing.’ And it was such a love letter, when you made one.
Shi: And you also drew on the CD cover.
Collins: Yeah, I don’t think it’s gonna come back, but I wish we could…
Shi: May be. This could be the new vinyl, [mix] CD.
Are you interested in telling more stories in the world of turn red? The way the movie ends seems perfectly set up for some sort of continuation, one way or another.
Shi: We are open, but we haven’t talked about it. But yeah, that’s an invitation at the end for more stories.
Collins: I hope that by the end of a movie, you’ve fallen so much in love with the characters that you find it hard to let them go. I mean, as filmmakers, not even as audiences, I feel that. I love these characters. I never got tired of them. I was always like, ‘Oh, I’d go hang out with these characters again.’ I want to see what they are doing. So here is. Who knows?
turn red will be released on Disney+ on Friday, March 11. If you haven’t signed up for Disney+ yet, you can try it out here.