Turning Red (2022) – The Disney Pixar animated film
In the vast landscape of animated films, Disney-Pixar continues to shine with its ability to captivate audiences of all ages. In 2022, the duo churned out another animated gem, “Turning Red”, an adventure that uniquely embraces comedy, culture and adolescence.
Directed by Domee Shi, who makes his feature film directorial debut, “Turning Red” is a story rooted in a mix of cultures and emotions. The plot takes us to Toronto in 2002, where we meet Mei Lee, a thirteen-year-old of Chinese origin who has to deal with adolescence. All too often, her adolescent impulses transform her into an enormous red panda, a situation that turns out to be…complicated, to put it kindly.
The film is a small miracle for several reasons. First, it is the first Pixar film directed exclusively by a woman, a significant achievement that paves the way for new perspectives and voices in the animation industry. Secondly, the film captures attention thanks to its mix of anime and 3D animation, which gives a distinctive visual look to the story.
The development process for “Turning Red” was equally fascinating. Domee Shi, already known for her 2018 short film “Bao,” pitched three ideas to Pixar in 2017, with “Red” capturing the studios' imagination. Production began in May 2018, and during this time, Pixar animators explored locations in Northern California for inspiration and visual references. The end result is a beautiful fusion of cultures and visual styles that makes the film one of a kind.
The “Turning Red” soundtrack deserves a special mention. Ludwig Göransson composed the music for his first animated film, helping to create the immersive atmosphere of the story. Additionally, Billie Eilish and Finneas O'Connell wrote original songs for the film, adding a musical touch that completes the cinematic experience.
“Turning Red” was initially planned for a global theatrical release, but changes were unavoidable due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The film was released on Disney+ on March 11, 2022, reaching audiences directly into their homes. Despite this unexpected turn, the film was a notable success at the box office and won the hearts of critics.
The movie was particularly praised for its ability to explore important themes through a humorous and touching lens. Mei Lee's story is a powerful depiction of teenage challenges, self-discovery, and acceptance of cultural differences. It's a story that speaks to all ages and offers a unique perspective on the path to adulthood.
Additionally, “Turning Red” was nominated for Best Animated Feature Film at the 2023 Oscars, further recognition of the exceptional talent and creativity Disney-Pixar brings to the big screen.
The story of “Turning Red”
In the heart of Toronto, in the year 2002, a story of growth and discovery takes shape. “Turning Red” introduces us to Mei Lee, a thirteen-year-old girl of Chinese origins who finds herself facing the turmoil of adolescence. Her daily life revolves around the family temple dedicated to her ancestor Sun Yee, and her desire to make her mother Ming proud of her. However, there are secrets that Mei hides from her mother, such as her secret love for Devon, a young clerk at the local convenience store.
Mei's life takes an unexpected turn when, one night, her relationship with her mother breaks down in public. Ming, who is strict and overprotective, discovers Mei's secret: her crush on Devon. Ming's reaction inadvertently humiliates Mei in front of everyone, and this marks the beginning of a series of extraordinary events.
That night, Mei has a vivid dream with red pandas. When she wakes up the next morning, she makes an incredible discovery: she has transformed into a giant red panda. To prevent her parents from finding out, Mei tries to hide this transformation, but she soon realizes that this metamorphosis only happens when she is overwhelmed by strong emotions.
The story becomes even more intriguing when Mei discovers that her transformation is not an isolated case. In fact, it's a family tradition that dates back centuries, when ancestor Sun Yee transformed into a red panda to protect her family during difficult times. Every woman in the Lee family inherited this ability, but now, in modern times, she has become inconvenient and dangerous. The solution is a ritual that must be performed during a lunar eclipse, which will occur in a month. However, Mei finds that focusing on her friends helps her control her transformations.
The movie also explores the generational conflict between Mei and her mother Ming. Ming initially tries to keep Mei under control of her to protect her, but this leads to a growing rift between them. Mei, for her part, wants to explore the world and live her life. This conflict intensifies when Mei decides to attend a concert by 4*Town, her favorite band, rather than undergo the ritual. The evolution of the characters is at the heart of the film, and Mei ultimately learns to embrace her true nature.
The narrative reaches its climax when Mei must confront her mother in an epic battle between giant-sized red pandas during a 4*Town concert. It's an emotional moment that reveals how much both women have grown over the course of the story. Mei's acceptance of herself and Ming's understanding of his daughter's desire to shape her destiny are powerful moments that give depth to the plot.
“Turning Red” is a story of growth, friendship and acceptance. It represents an emotional journey through the challenges of adolescence and complex family dynamics. The film reminds us that we all have a unique and special side, and that embracing our true nature is the first step towards happiness and harmony with the world around us.
The characters of “Turning Red”
At the heart of “Red,” we meet a host of fascinating characters, each with their own unique story and personality. These are the protagonists who bring the story to life:
Meilin "Mei" Lee (Rosalie Chiang): Mei is the protagonist of the film, a thirteen-year-old Chinese-Canadian girl. She is intelligent, diligent and always tries to please her mother, Ming. However, her life changes dramatically when she discovers that she can transform into a huge red panda whenever she feels strong emotions. Her growth and the discovery of her true identity are the heart of the story.
ming lee (Sandra Oh): Ming is Mei's mother, a strict and overprotective woman. She has a strong connection to family traditions and wants to protect her daughter at all costs. Her relationship with Mei is at the center of the film's generational conflict.
Miriam Mendelsohn (Ava Morse): Miriam is one of Mei's best friends. She is a Canadian girl of Jewish origins, tough and a bit tomboyish. Her color is green and she wears streetwear style clothes. She is the first to accept Mei in her new form and offers her unconditional support.
Priya Mangal (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan): Priya is another of Mei's best friends. She is of Indo-Canadian origin and has a distinct style with yellow ocher clothes. Her personality is calm and unemotional, even when she is happy.
Abby Park (Hyein Park): Abby is the third of Mei's closest friends. She is of Korean-Canadian descent and is pure energy. She is wearing dungarees and a lilac headband. Her personality is lively and impulsive.
Jin lee (Orion Lee): Jin is Mei's father and is the only family member who supports Mei's decision to keep her transformation powers. He is a quiet but supportive character.
Wu (Wai Ching Ho): Wu is Mei's grandmother and Ming's mother. She is characterized by a scar on her eyebrow and she has a history of conflict with Ming. Her red panda spirit is sealed in a jade bracelet.
Tyler Nguyen-Baker (Tristan Allerick Chen): Tyler is Mei's classmate, who initially acts like a bully towards her. However, he will eventually become friends with her when she discovers that he is also a fan of 4*Town.
These characters help make “Red” a compelling and touching film, in which personal growth, friendship and self-acceptance play a central role in the plot. Each character has their own evolution and narrative arc, which intertwine in a compelling story full of emotions.
The production of the movie “Turning Red”
The world of cinematic animation is a magical place where stories come to life through the art of animation. In 2022, Disney-Pixar brought us another masterpiece with “Red,” a film that addresses growth, transformation, and the magic of adolescence through the eyes of a young girl named Mei Lee.
It all started in 2017, when Domee Shi had just completed the Pixar short film “Bao”. At that time, Pixar asked her to submit three ideas for a feature film. Her submissions were all coming-of-age stories centered on teenage girls, but the one that would take shape as “Red” was based on a girl going through “magical puberty,” inspired by Shi's own experiences. It was a universal idea: anyone who has been a thirteen-year-old knows what it means to feel like a “wild, hairy, hormonal beast.” Pixar was immediately fascinated by this idea and the project took off.
The approach of telling more personal stories has spread to Pixar thanks to the new creative director, Pete Docter. Shi was announced as the writer and director of “Red” in May 2018, becoming the first woman to direct a film alone at the studio. The film's creative team was also Pixar's first all-female team, a choice that came naturally but significantly. Rona Liu served as the production designer, bringing a world set in Toronto, Canada, to life in 2002.
For casting, a young and authentic face was essential. In 2017, Pixar hired Rosalie Chiang, a young actress aged just 12, to provide interim voices for the film's development. Chiang was chosen in part because she was a young local actress, located a short distance from Pixar's headquarters. After two years of development, Shi and producer Lindsey Collins knew they had found their Mei. They couldn't imagine anyone else in the role. Their decision was personally approved by Pixar's creative director, Pete Docter.
But it didn't end here. During a recording session in 2020, Shi surprised Chiang by offering her the role of Mei in a special way, in one of their last in-person meetings before the pandemic began. To keep production going, Pixar sent a large amount of professional audio equipment to Chiang, who transformed a room in her house into a makeshift recording studio.
Design and Inspirations
The world of “Red” is a visual feast. Shi took inspiration from anime like Sailor Moon, Ranma ½, Fruits Basket, and Inuyasha, adding hand-drawn 2D animated effects on top of Pixar's 3D animation to capture that unique aesthetic. Video games like Pokémon, EarthBound, and The Legend of Zelda influenced the way the world was stylized, making it charming and cute.
The film's plot deals with puberty in an open and honest way. While it doesn't directly address biological changes, the characters face the challenges of adolescence. The title itself, “Red,” references the experience of menstruation, but the color red also symbolizes other adolescent feelings such as embarrassment and desire.
Music is another key element of the film, with a soundtrack by Ludwig Göransson and original songs written by Billie Eilish and Finneas O'Connell. The fictional band 4*Town brings these songs to life in the context of the film, adding an emotional dimension to Mei's story.
Technical Sheet of “Turning Red” (2022)
- Original title: turning red
- Original language: English
- Country of Production: United States of America
- Year: 2022
- Duration: 100 min
- Gender: Animation, Comedy, Fantasy, Adventure
- Directed by: Domee shi
- Subject: Domee Shi, Julia Cho, Sarah Streicher
- Film script: Domee Shi, Julia Cho
- Producer: Lindsey Collins
- Executive producer: Pete Docter, Dan Scanlon
- Production House: Walt Disney Pictures, Pixar Animation Studios
- Distribution in Italian: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
- Photographs: Mahyar Abousaeedi, Jonathan Pytko
- Mounting: Nicholas C. Smith, Steve Bloom
- Special effects: Danielle Feinberg
- Music: Ludwig Göransson
- Scenography: Ron Liu
- Art Director: Kristian Norelius, Huy Nguyen
- Character Design: Jason Deamer, Zaruhi Galstyan, Tom Gately, Alice Lemma, Albert Lozano, Keiko Murayama, Maria Yi
- Animators: Aaron Hartline, Patty Kihm
Original voice actors:
- Rosalie Chiang: Meilin “Mei” Lee
- Sandra Oh: Ming Lee
- Ava Morse: Miriam Mendelsohn
- Maitreyi Ramakrishnan: Priya Mangal
- Hyein Park: Abby Park
- Orion Lee: Jin Lee
- Wai Ching Ho: Wu Lee
- Tristan Allerick Chen: Tyler Nguyen-Baker
- Lori Tan Chinn: Aunt Chen
- Lillian Lim: Aunt Ping
- Sherry Cola: Helen
- Mia Tagano: Lily
- Addie Chandler: Devon
- Anne-Marie: Lauren
- Jordan Fisher: Robaire
- Josh LeviAaron Z
- Topher Ngo: Aaron T
- Finneas O'Connell: Jesse
- Grayson Villanueva: Tae Young
- James Hong: Mr. Gao
Italian voice actors:
- Chiara Fabiano: Meilin “Mei” Lee
- Daniela Calò: Ming Lee
- Nicole Damiani: Miriam Mendelsohn
- Sara Labidi: Priya Mangal
- Vittoria Bartolomei: Abby Park
- Shi Yang Shi: Jin Lee
- Antonella Giannini: Wu Lee
- Valeriano Corini: Tyler Nguyen-Baker
- Cinzia De Carolis: Aunt Chen
- Mirta Pepe: Aunt Ping
- Oliviero Dinelli: Mr. Gao
- Ambra Angiolini: Helen
- Sabrina Impacciatore: Lily
- Andrea Manfredi: Devon
- Marco Maccarini: Radio host
- Federico Russo: TV announcer
- Gu Shen: Sui Jyu
- Hell Raton: Robaire
- Baltimore: Tae Young
- Versailles: Aaron T.
- Karakaz: Jesse
- Moonryde: Aaron Z.