Pixar’s ‘Turning Red’ Uniquely Depicts a Coming-of-age Film Through Cultural Specificity

Disney and Pixar’s original 3D animated movie “Turning Red” is a coming-of-age film but it’s unlike any other. 

It’s the first Pixar feature film to be directed solely by a woman. Director and animator, Domee Shi, makes this film very personal, as it’s based on her own relationship with her mother.

The Chinese-Canadian director saw the significance of narrating this story from the perspective of an immigrant child torn between two cultures from opposing perspectives, especially when it comes to children who go to great lengths to impress their parents.

The film centers on a 13-year-old Chinese-Canadian girl, Mei Lee, who is torn between being her mother’s obedient daughter and exploring the challenges of adolescence. But her life gets more complicated when she discovers that she turns into a fluffy giant red panda whenever she becomes too stressed or excited (which for a teenager is practically ALWAYS). The film is set in the early 2000s, during the heyday of boy bands, pop idols, CDs, and Tamagotchis.

Although it’s a mystical story, the genuineness of the mother-daughter relationship in the film help ground the picture. The authenticity allows for a more engaging story while the red panda change makes it a weird and fun metaphor for transitioning from adolescence to adulthood, as well as the complexities of the parent-child connection to audiences.

Domee Shi was also drawn to Toronto’s multiculturalism. She wanted to honor the diversity of cultures, languages, and customs that exist in one city. Shi brings authenticity to her experiences as a Chinese-Canadian teenage girl and a reflection of the world we live in today by having Mei as the lead.

Shi learned a lot from those real-life moments depicted in the animated film, and she hopes that “Turning Red” that both teens and parents can understand that growing up is not an easy thing.

Mei Lee will be voiced by the 16-year-old actress Rosalee Chiang, while Sandra Oh will voice Mei’s mother. “Turning Red” is set to be released on Disney+ on March 11, 2022.