Latest Pixar Movies, Turn red, is a tribute to both the bewildering feeling of young school age and the complicated relationships between Asian girls and their mothers – which the filmmaker Domee Shi wanted to discover since the success of her 2018 Oscar-winning short film, Bag.
Set in the early 2000s in Toronto, Turn red followed by 13-year-old Mei (Rosalie Chiang) when she was in eighth grade, her friendship and her boy band obsession. (Not since the days of A silly movie there’s an animated concert scene that accurately captures the thrill of seeing your childhood idols live.) At the same time, she also struggles with the expectations of her mother, Ming (Sandra Oh) —And her body’s new habit is to suddenly transform into a giant red panda whenever she is overwhelmed by her emotions.
Below, Vanity Fair spoke with Shi and Oh about the inspiration behind the character Ming, as well as the meaning of the film’s pivotal, climactic scene between Mei, Ming, and their families’ matriarchs. (Warning: big spoilers ahead!)
Vanity Fair: Domee, I heard that some of the craziest moments in movies are based on what happened to youabout your own relationship with your mother when you were a child.
Domee Shi: Yes. My mom definitely watched me on my first day of middle school. I walked out of the building – I think I made some new friends! – and then one of them said, “Domee, who’s that woman staring at you from behind the tree?” And then I looked up, and it was my mother, and she was wearing sunglasses.
Sandra Oh: [gasps] Is not!
Shi: Like, “Oh, she won’t recognize me if I wear sunglasses.” So she hid back behind the tree. I said, “Mom? What are you doing here?” She was worried about me and she just wanted to make sure I was okay. But that was definitely the inspiration for the scene in the movie, even though my mom didn’t get into a fight with the Sikh security guard.
Sandra, what interests you most when taking on the role of Ming, the mother in the movie?
OH: An entire Pixar movie focuses on the inner life of a 13-year-old Chinese-Canadian girl — in fact, where we’re going to spend an entire movie with her — that’s really why I want to be a part of it. And to work with Domee, the Canadian! I’m really excited for those two reasons.
To be able to speak out and maintain perspective on a strained relationship between Asian girls and their mothers is a real honor. You might think you know who Ming is at the beginning of the film, but there’s a lot of humor, quirks, and her own personal pain revealed.