After several months of waiting, Turning Red will premiere on Disney+ on March 11, 2022. The new Pixar movie is already receiving positive early reviews from critics, and naturally families everywhere are excited to finally get the chance to meet 13-year-old Mei and her family. Like so many Pixar movies, Turning Red looks to be a pretty fantastical story about growing up, with some magical elements and a life lesson or two thrown in for good measure. But unlike other Pixar movies, it turns out that Turning Red is somewhat based on a true story and real life.
Turning Red follows a 13-year-old girl whose hormones turn her into a giant red panda
Set in Toronto, Canada in the early 2000s, Mei Lee (voiced by Rosalie Chiang) is a 13-year-old Chinese-Canadian girl trying to deal with puberty like everyone else. She is smart and confident and self-assured... until those hormones start raging and she discovers that extreme emotions turn her into a giant red panda.
If you think the Incredible Hulk had it tough, try being a 13-year-old girl. Imagine trying to control those extreme emotions enough to keep the red panda at bay. Especially when she has a mom who is, shall we say, a smidge overprotective. And here’s where art imitates life...
Moments in Turning Red were based on the director’s mom and her own childhood
In the first trailer for Turning Red, Mei is seen sitting in her classroom diligently paying attention when a classmate slips her a note reading “your mom is outside.” There stands Mei’s mom Ming (voiced by Sandra Oh), wearing sunglasses and trying to hide behind a tree. A school security officer comes out to speak to her and they end up getting in a fight, which naturally triggers poor Mei’s inner red panda to spring forth.
This scene, minus the red panda, was pulled right from director Domee Shi’s own life when her mother stood outside on her first day of middle school. “[My mother] was hiding behind a tree with sunglasses on when I came out of school with my new friends,” Shi told Maclean’s magazine. “I was mortified.”
An embarrassing moment from ‘Turning Red’ was based on real life.
Shi noted in the same interview that her own childhood growing up in Canada and her own family were sources of inspiration for the movie.
Mei’s life in the movie draws a lot from the director’s childhood
Much like Mei, Shi told What’s On Disney+ that she also kept a journal under her bed when she was growing up and she’s still unsure if her parents ever found it. Several characters in the movie are based on real life friends as well; one of whom she asked to voice the character based on her. “Abby Park in the movie, she’s a short-fused friend of Mei’s who was definitely, loosely, inspired by my real life friend, colleague, and fellow Pixarian, Heyin Park, who also does the voice of Abby. We’ve been friends since college and she’s always been that ride or die friend who gets angry for you when things become unfair.” Shi continues, “I thought it was a really cool character to put in the movie because she’s so specific, but also unique, and I haven’t seen a character like her in a movie before.”
Domee Shi has a knack for telling stories about moms who can’t let go
Shi’s 2018 Academy Award-winning animated short Bao also tells the story of an overprotective mom who is struggling to let go after her son moved out of the house. One of her homemade dumplings magically turns into her dream son, but he too wants to grow up and leave. And so she eats him. A harsh and beautiful message about motherhood, really.
Turning Red is being praised as “pure joy”
While Turning Red won’t be released until March 11 on Disney+, critics are already praising the movie for it’s messaging about puberty, parenting, and of course an amazing early 2000s soundtrack that will appeal to all millennials who loved boy bands. It will also appeal to anyone who has ever had, or perhaps even is, an overprotective mom who just can’t let go.