Senior Correspondent

Turning Red On Celebrating ‘Cringiness’

Domee Shi Interview Opinion Piece Press Conference Turning Red

Turning Red took the world by storm last Friday on Disney+; a storm I was eagerly anticipating since I saw its early screening.

Turning Red has achieved a lot of ‘firsts’. Around four years ago, I was beyond excited when Domee Shi’s directorial debut Bao was announced. It felt like Pixar finally taking important steps towards equality and diversity in their storytelling. Turning Red feels like proof of this. Imagine our past selves – our naïve, 2018 selves – learning about Turning Red; about its female leads, its female director, producer and writers, and about its wonderful observation of female relationships.

I attended a virtual interview with the cast and crew (an all-female panel!) of Turning Red before the Disney+ release. You could sense the pride everyone felt from being involved in this film. The characters really resonated with all of them, and obviously this was especially true for Domee Shi, who took inspiration for the story from her own childhood.

It’s interesting and oddly poignant that out of all the childhood stages Shi had to choose from, she went for perhaps the cringiest stage of all: the early teen stage. It was a brave move to make for the movie, to create four main characters at an age that many of us try our best to forget about. Shi didn’t just choose to make Mei and her friend group 13 years old – she made the decision to portray this life stage painfully accurately. Turning Red doesn’t shy away from ‘cringiness’ – it embraces it. And this is to the movie’s benefit.

Director Domee Shi uploaded this amazing illustration to her Instagram following the release of Turning Red

Often, films centred around young teen protagonists have the habit of giving them the “different from other kids” trope, suggesting that you can’t be the hero of a story if you’re just some regular kid. Turning Red doesn’t do this. Mei, Miriam, Abby, and Priya are 13-year-olds being just that – 13-year-olds. They like boy bands. They’re goofy. They get crushes. And their friendship is a huge part of their lives. Their supportive and dorky little friend group might be the most accurate depiction of female friendship I’ve ever seen in a movie.

Turning Red concept art by Keiko Murayama

Yes, Mei ended up being a little different to a typical 13-year-old after she discovered her “inconvenient” red panda transformation trait. But I loved how her and her friends were the heroines of the story, even before the climactic sequence. They’re all dealing with such a difficult amount of change, and they’re supporting each other along the way. Turning Red is going to be an important movie for so many girls growing up into adolescence, but it’s also made me come to terms with how my past, cringy self is such a superhero. I didn’t have to deal with turning into a giant red panda every time I got emotional, but wow did I have to deal with a whole lot else.

Sandra Oh, voice of Ming, said it so well in the virtual interview:

“I just really appreciated how it’s like all these girls, even in their young womanhood, are in charge of their lives and they’re making their decisions.”

There are many themes in Turning Red that I’m a huge fan of: the mother-daughter relationship, the coming-of-age story, the early 2000s vibes… But the thing that I’ve had hanging around in my head the most (aside from 4*Town’s music) after watching the movie for the fourth time now is: the impact and value of female support networks, and how well the movie represented that.

When asked what advice she had for aspiring women directors, Domee Shi replied:

“For me, it was … being able to find a support system and a community at Pixar. That was so valuable for me, and really built my confidence and my voice as a filmmaker and a storyteller. When I first started at Pixar, there were only, like, four or five women in the story department, out of a department of, like, 30 or 40. But we started having lunches together and kinda sharing stories …
It can feel so lonely being a woman, being a person of colour in this industry, that I think it’s so important to find those colleagues, those allies, to … just help you not feel alone as you struggle and work your way through this industry. So that was huge for me.”

Tags: , , , Last modified: September 10, 2023

Joanna Peaker is a Senior Correspondent for Upcoming Pixar. Joanna's love for Pixar blossomed after watching Up for the first time in 2009, and it has continued to grow ever since. Joanna brings an artistic eye to Upcoming Pixar, delivering a unique editorial perspective on Pixar's aesthetics.