Turning Red –
Positive of Turning Red –
|Directed by||Domee Shi|
|Produced by||Lindsey Collins|
|Music by||Ludwig Göransson|
|Distributed by||Walt Disney Studios|
|Box office||$13.4 million|
Turning Red is a 2022 American computer-animated fantasy comedy film produced by Pixar Animation Studios and distributed by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures. The film was directed by Domee Shi (in her feature directorial debut), written by Shi and Julia Cho, and produced by Lindsey Collins. It stars the voices of Rosalie Chiang, Sandra Oh, Ava Morse, Hyein Park, Maitreyi Ramakrishnan, Orion Lee, Wai Ching Ho, Tristan Allerick Chen, and James Hong.
Set in Toronto, Ontario, in 2002, Turning Red follows Meilin “Mei” Lee, a 13-year-old Chinese-Canadian student who, due to a hereditary curse, transforms into a giant red panda when she expresses any strong emotion. Inspired by Shi’s experiences growing up in Toronto, the film began development in 2018 after she pitched it to Pixar in October 2017. It is the first Pixar film solely directed by a woman and the second to feature an Asian lead character after Up (2009).
Special screenings of Turning Red took place in London at Everyman Borough Yards on February 21, 2022, and in Toronto at TIFF on March 8. The film had its world premiere at the El Capitan Theatre in Los Angeles on March 1, and was released on the Disney+ streaming service on March 11, along with simultaneous limited in certain theaters. It was released theatrically in most countries without Disney+, grossing a total of $13.4 million worldwide, and received critical acclaim.
In 2002, Meilin “Mei” Lee is a 13-year-old Chinese-Canadian girl living in Toronto. She helps take care of the family’s temple dedicated to their ancestor, Sun Yee, and works to make her strict, overprotective mother Ming proud. Mei hides her personal interests from Ming, such as the fact that she and her best friends Miriam, Priya, and Abby are fans of the boy band 4*Town.
When Ming discovers Mei’s crush on Devon, the local convenience store clerk, she confronts him and unintentionally embarrasses Mei in public, including in front of school bully Tyler, which leads Mei to have a vivid nightmare involving red pandas. The next morning, Mei has transformed into a large red panda. She hides from her parents and discovers that she only transforms when she is in a state of high emotion. Ming initially believes Mei is experiencing her first period, but finds out the truth when she further embarrasses Mei at school, causing Mei to transform and run home.
Ming and Jin, Mei’s father, explain that Sun Yee was granted this transformation to protect her daughters, and every female family member since then has also transformed when they came of age. This has become inconvenient and dangerous in the modern age, so the red panda spirit must be sealed in a talisman by a ritual on the night of the Red Moon; the next being in a month’s time. Mei’s friends discover her transformation but take a liking to it, and Mei finds that concentrating on them helps control the red panda within her.
Ming allows Mei to resume her normal life but refuses to let Mei attend 4*Town’s upcoming concert. Instead, the girls secretly raise money for the tickets at school, exploiting the popularity of Mei’s red panda form, while lying to Ming. To cover the last ticket, Mei agrees to attend Tyler’s birthday party as the red panda. At the party, Mei is upset to discover that the concert will be held on her ritual night. In the midst of her rage, she attacks Tyler when he insults her family, frightening the other children. Ming discovers Mei’s activities and accuses her friends of corrupting and taking advantage of her. Ashamed and afraid to stand up to her mother, Mei fails to come to her friends’ defense.
Mei’s grandmother, Wu, and her aunts come to assist in her ritual, to Ming’s dismay. As Mei prepares herself, Jin finds videos she took of herself as the red panda with her friends and tells her she should not be ashamed of this side of her. During the ritual, as Mei’s red panda form is about to be sealed, she decides to keep her powers and abandons the ritual to attend the concert at the SkyDome. Her friends forgive her for her actions at the party, and they discover Tyler is also a 4*Town fan. However, during her escape from the temple, Mei inadvertently damaged her mother’s talisman; an enraged Ming transforms into a kaiju-sized red panda and disrupts the concert, intending to take Mei back by force.
Mei and Ming argue about Mei’s independence, and as they quarrel, Mei accidentally knocks her mother unconscious. Wu and the other aunts break their talismans to use their red panda forms to help drag Ming into a new ritual circle. Mei’s friends and 4*Town join in singing to complete the ritual, sending Mei, Ming, and the other women to the astral plane. Mei reconciles with Ming and helps her mend her bond with Wu, whom Ming accidentally scarred in anger at some point years ago before sealing her red panda form. The other women conceal their red pandas in new talismans, but Mei decides to keep hers, and Ming accepts that she is finding her own path. Later, as the Lee family raises money to repair the damage caused at the SkyDome, Mei and Ming’s relationship has improved, as Mei balances her temple duties—where her red panda is now an attraction—with spending time with friends, now including Tyler.
- Rosalie Chiang as Meilin “Mei” Lee, a 13-year-old Chinese-Canadian girl who suddenly transforms into a huge red panda whenever she experiences any strong emotion, due to her ancestors’ mystic connection with red pandas.
- Sandra Oh as Ming Lee, Mei’s strict and overprotective mother.
- Ava Morse as Miriam Mendelsohn, a singing Jewish-Canadian tomboy with braces who is one of Mei’s best friends.
- Maitreyi Ramakrishnan as Priya Mangal, a deadpan Indo-Canadian girl who is one of Mei’s best friends.
- Hyein Park as Abby Park, an energetic and aggressive Korean-Canadian girl and one of Mei’s best friends.
- Orion Lee as Jin Lee, Mei’s quiet yet supportive father.
- Wai Ching Ho as Wu, Mei’s grandmother and Ming’s mother.
- Tristan Allerick Chen as Tyler Nguyen-Baker, Mei’s classmate and former bully who initially picks on her.
- James Hong as Mr. Gao, a local elder and a friend of the Lee family who is a trained shaman and helps in the red panda-sealing ritual.
- Addie Chandler as Devon, Mei’s secret crush and the local convenience store clerk.
- Sasha Roiz as Mr. Kieslowski, Mei’s teacher at Lester B. Pearson Middle School.
- Lily Sanfelippo as Stacy Frick, one of Mei’s classmates who sees her red panda form in the girl’s restroom.
Additionally, Mei’s aunts – Chen, Ping, Helen, and Lily – are voiced by Lori Tan Chinn, Lillian Lim, Sherry Cola, and Mia Tagano, respectively. The members of the 4*Town boy band – Robaire, Jesse, Aaron Z., Aaron T., and Tae Young – are voiced by Jordan Fisher, Finneas O’Connell, Josh Levi, Topher Ngo, and Grayson Villanueva, respectively. In the UK version, Anne-Marie voices Lauren, one of Mei’s classmates.
In 2017, Shi had recently completed the Pixar short Bao when Pixar invited her to pitch three ideas for a full-length film. Her proposed concepts were all coming-of-age stories centered on teenage girls. The one that became Turning Red was based on a girl going through a “magical puberty,” which Shi wrote based on her own personal experiences. Shi said “Everyone has been there. Everyone has been 13 and feeling like they’re turning into some wild, hairy, hormonal beast, and I think that’s why Pixar was drawn to it.” Shi pitched all three concepts, including Turning Red, to Pixar on October 31, 2017. According to Pixar producer Lindsey Collins, who sat in on Shi’s pitch meeting, the Pixar staff were drawn to the Turning Red idea as “it was so clear that Domee had such a sense of who these two main characters were, that Mei and Ming were really clear and special and unique, more than any of the other ideas” and that “she had this really personal experience with these two characters that were kind of versions of her own life. That’s like the magic equation, right there.” The approach of using more personable stories followed from Luca under Pixar’s new chief creative officer Pete Docter‘s oversight, which shifted the direction the studio took with both storytelling and film production.
The film was developed under the working title of Red. Shi was announced as writer and director of an upcoming Pixar full-length film on May 8, 2018, making her the first woman to solely direct a film in the studio.[a] The film’s creative leads were also the first all-female team for Pixar, which Pixar’s CEO Jim Morris said “happened very organically” rather than by intent. Rona Liu served as production designer, after doing so for Bao. Liu said that working on a feature film was “a dream come true”. By November 26, 2018, Shi confirmed that the film was in early stages of development, with the story still being worked on, and that “[she is] really excited to play in this new 90-minute film format”. The title Turning Red was finalized by December 10, 2020. According to Morris, Turning Red had one of the fastest development times of a Pixar feature film, taking only four years to complete.
In 2017, Pixar hired Chiang to provide scratch vocals to support the development of the film. Chiang, then only 12 years old, was selected in part because she was a local child actor conveniently based in nearby Fremont, which is only about 35 miles (56 km) from Pixar’s Emeryville headquarters. After two years of development, Shi and Collins reached the point where the film was “solid” enough to start casting professional voice actors. Despite listening to various auditions, the two realized they had already fallen in love with Chiang’s scratch vocals and could not envision anyone else playing Mei. They escalated the issue to Pixar chief creative officer Pete Docter, who personally approved the casting of Chiang in the film’s lead role.
During an early 2020 recording session, Shi suddenly surprised Chiang with an additional script page, in which Shi, reading in character as Ming, offered Chiang the role. This session, right before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States, turned out to be their last one conducted in person. To keep production going, Pixar shipped an enormous amount of professional audio equipment to Chiang, who turned one of the rooms in her parents’ house into a makeshift recording studio.
Sandra Oh was Shi’s top pick for Ming. Besides the fact that Oh was a fellow Asian Canadian, Shi believed Oh could convey the range of complex emotions they wished to portray in Ming.
The film takes place in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, in 2002 as confirmed by a production designer in February 2021. As the film takes place through the eyes of a 13-year-old girl, the entire environment has been stylized to convey a specific feeling; Shi described the film’s overall look as an “Asian tween fever dream”. According to executive producer Dan Scanlon, “It feels more like a very soft, colorful, magical, idyllic, almost youthful version of the city”. This included capturing the popularity of boy bands at the turn of the millennium and how teenage girls reacted to them. Pixar animators visited various locations around Northern California for inspiration and visual references. They studied red pandas at the San Francisco Zoo, and looked at architecture in Chinatown in San Francisco and the Bok Kai Temple in Marysville.
Shi said that several anime influenced the film, including Sailor Moon, Ranma ½, Fruits Basket, and Inuyasha. To capture these anime influences, hand-drawn 2D animated effects were added atop Pixar’s 3D animation. Shi was also inspired by My Neighbor Totoro, in creating an “iconic grabbable giant animal that you just want to rub your face in”. Shi also compared the plot of the film to Disney’s A Goofy Movie, a similar coming-of-age movie involving a parent and child trying to mend their relationship, with a pop band as part of the film’s climax. The film also deals with puberty, though the film does not directly talk of biological changes. For example, Mei’s mother mistakes Mei’s reaction to her transformation for her first menstruation. Shi said they were “unapologetic” about the discussion of these topics in the film; the title Turning Red is an allegory for menstruation. The color red also reflects other feelings experienced by teenagers, according to Shi, such as embarrassment or lust. Shi and her staff had feared that studio executives would want the scenes referencing puberty removed, but the scenes were accepted.
Liu oversaw the production of the food scenes, as she had done for Bao. They partnered with the non-profit organization Gold House that specializes in promotion of Asian and Pacific cultures to identify what foods to include. For rendering the foods, they were inspired by the approach that Studio Ghibli had done with foods in their works, as well as exaggerating their look in the same manner that Sanrio uses to bring cuteness into their products, and the way the film The God of Cookery showed food in a “dream glow”.
Ludwig Göransson composed the film’s score, making it his first animated film composition. Billie Eilish and Finneas O’Connell wrote three original songs performed in the film by the fictional boy band 4*Town. According to Collins, “U Know What’s Up” was intended to be a confidence booster, “1 True Love” was intended as the group’s love ballad, and “Nobody Like U” was the song that everyone knows from the group. Collins said she had decided to approach Eilish and O’Connell at the start of the production, near the same time that Eilish was coming to fame herself; Collins said that her own child had become a fan of Eilish’s music which has inspired this choice. To pitch the idea to the pair, production created a scrapbook based on scenes of Mei and her fascination with 4*Town they had already developed for the film, at times putting cutouts of Eilish’ and O’Connell’s heads in place of the 4*Town members to show their appreciation for the pair. Both were already animation fans, and Eilish said that when they saw the concept from the material they got, she immediately got the idea they were aiming for, as she had been a fan of boy bands herself and recognized the bond Mei had with 4*Town.
The film includes a Cantonese chant used as part of the ritual to contain the red panda spirit that was created with help of Herman Wong, operations director for Disney Character Voices International. This chant then also had to be integrated with Ellish’s and O’Connell’s “Nobody Like U” as part of the film’s climax, which was done by Göransson to make sure the two rhythms matched in beat and key.
Walt Disney Records released the soundtrack album digitally and on CD on March 11, 2022. Subsequently, tracks from 4*Town appeared in multiple languages, some of which were performed by boy bands such as Da-iCE for Japanese and W0LF(S) for Mandarin. Cha Cha Slide (2000) by DJ Casper and Bootylicious (2001) by Destiny’s Child are also heard in the film. The album debuted at number 187 on the Billboard 200 chart on the week of March 21, 2022, and later peaked at number 87 on the week of April 9, 2022.
Marketing and promotion
A first look of the film was shown at the Disney Investor Day on December 10, 2020. The teaser trailer premiered on July 13, 2021, as the official trailer premiered on November 17, 2021. In the lead up to the film’s release, Disney partnered with Mozilla to promote the film via the Firefox web browser, as red pandas are also known as “firefoxes.” Users on mobile and desktop are able to apply custom backgrounds and themes within the browser, respectively. According to Mozilla’s chief marketing office Lindsey Shepard, the collaboration gives Mozilla the opportunity “to bring [the] Mozilla ethos to the new generation.” One of the red pandas at the San Francisco Zoo was renamed Meilin on the day of the film’s release. Air Canada decorated an Airbus A220 with images of Mei and her “red panda form” to fly over Canada promoting the film, and also had a contest for the public to attend the premiere in Toronto and win special prizes. A large statue of Mei as a red panda was placed in Toronto next to the CN Tower, Ripley’s Aquarium, Roundhouse Park, Scotiabank Arena and the Rogers Centre (formerly known as Air Canada Centre and the Skydome, respectively) where passerby could have their photos taken with the statue. iSpot.tv reported that Disney had spent $23 million on television spots for Turning Red, which was more than what the studio spent on Black Widow, Jungle Cruise ($19.5 million), and Cruella ($12.6 million), and what Netflix spent on its most-watched film, Red Notice ($3.3 million). Since February 21, 2022, the trailer for the film had been the 16th-most-seen TV spot of all time.
Theatrical release, premiere and streaming
Turning Red was given special screenings that took place in London at Everyman Borough Yards on February 21, 2022, and in Toronto at TIFF on March 8, 2022. The film had its world premiere at El Capitan Theatre on March 1, 2022. It was originally scheduled to be theatrically released in the United States on March 11, 2022, by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures. On June 17, 2021, a Pixar insider reaffirmed the film would have a theatrical release after both Soul (2020) and Luca (2021) were assigned direct-to-streaming releases on Disney+ in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, as the Omicron variant cases rose, on January 7, 2022, the decision was made to shift the film from its planned theatrical release to its direct-to-streaming release on Disney+ as a Disney+ original. In international markets where Disney+ is not available, it was released theatrically. In February 2022, it was announced that the film would play a one-week theatrical engagement at Hollywood’s El Capitan Theatre from March 11–17, 2022. The film also began playing at Manhattan’s AMC Empire 25 and Oakland’s Grand Lake Theatre the same day it was released to Disney+, as well as several Showcase Cinema de Lux venues across the United Kingdom. Disney canceled the Russian release in response to the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 28, 2022. In addition to the film, a 50-minute documentary about the making of the film, especially focusing on its all-female creative team, entitled Embrace the Panda: Making Turning Red, was released on Disney+ the same day.
Disney licensed several books based on the film, which were released both before and after the US premiere. This includes: novelizations, short stories, sticker album, behind the scenes, coloring books and more.
Turning Red is scheduled to be released on digital services on April 26, 2022, and on 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray and DVD on May 3, 2022.