Turning Red: Red Pandas and Presenting Accurate Female Friendships

Last month, Pixar hosted an early press day for Turning Red where we learned about the behind-the-scenes of the movie, and we got the chance to see about 30 minutes of footage. This will be one of those Pixar movies that is really going to hit girls and young women more than anyone else as it really taps into the hell that is being a thirteen-year-old. It's going to bring back a lot of memories for those that came of age in the late 90s and early 2000s, as well as it really captures that time period accurately while not feeling overly rose-colored but also not making fun of it as well. It's a fine line to walk, and so far, it looks like Turning Red is walking it. They hosted a Q&A with director Domee Shi and longtime Pixar producer Lindsey Collins. Shi was asked why she decided to make the animal that Mei, the main character of Turning Red, a red panda.

"I chose red panda because it's not a super popular animal in a lot of stories," Shi explained during the Turning Red early press day. "Even though it should be because it's so freakin cute. It's native to China. Actually, close to the Sichuan province, which is where my family's from, which was a really cool little detail that also drew me to the red panda. And I think we wanted to make up our own mythical creature. I think we wanted, like, the space and the room to come up with a whole legend and mythology behind it. So that's why we chose a character that was a little bit less common in a lot of Asian folklore. Um, and it's just so cute. Look at it. Come on."

"I've always been a red pandas fan," Collins added. "So, I'm just really happy I got to spend four years drawing it." The animated really looked into the animal itself and revealed during the research phase that they found out that when red pandas are startled, they will raise their hands up. So when watching Turning Red, whenever Mei is in her panda form, and she is startled, she'll put her hands up.

Pixar's Turning Red Will Stream To Disney+ Exclusively March 11th
RED ALERT – In Disney and Pixar's all-new original feature film "Turning Red," 13-year-old Mei Lee "poofs" into a giant panda when she gets too excited (which for a teenager is practically ALWAYS). This unfortunate new reality for the teenager lands her in a multitude of awkward situations. Featuring Rosalie Chiang as the voice of Mei Lee, "Turning Red" will debut exclusively on Disney+ (where Disney+ is available) on March 11, 2022. © 2022 Disney/Pixar. All Rights Reserved.

One of the things that has been apparent from the first footage of Turning Red and is even more apparent in the footage that we got to see during the early press day is the importance of female friendships. Teenagers and even more so teenage girls are often presented as catty and always looking for an excuse to backstab each other. However, there doesn't appear to be any of that tension in the friendship between Mei and her girlfriends. We were informed during the press day that much of the creative team behind Turning Red were women and asked Collins if she thought having such a female perspective helped present a more accurate version of teenage friendships.

"Yeah. I mean, that's true. And I think that was always intentional," Collins explained. "I mean, in the sense that it was representing kind of our own experiences at the best of times. Meaning, as we talked about, wanting to represent a girl who was torn between her friends and what that life was and her family. Obviously, we wanted to represent those friends as being the most supportive and loving. And I think, especially, I think a lot of things were influenced by the fact that we had a female director, producer, writer, tech sup, and all of those things.

Turning Red: New Trailer, Poster, Images, and a Pixar Boyband
FRIENDS FOREVER – In Disney and Pixar's all-new original feature film "Turning Red," 13-year-old Mei Lee, a confident-but-dorky teenager with a tight-knit group of friends who are passionate about a boy band called 4-Town. Featuring the voices of Rosalie Chiang, Ava Morse, Maitreyi Ramakrishnan, and Hyein Park as Mei, Miriam, Priya, and Abby, "Turning Red" will debut exclusively on Disney+ (where Disney+ is available) on March 11, 2022. © 2022 Disney/Pixar. All Rights Reserved.

"I think, if nothing else, had much more honest conversations in story rooms and editorial rooms about our memories of growing up at that age," Collins continued. "So, I think, if anything, we tried to be accurate to the friendships we had at those ages. And the ones we remember the most are the ones that were never stereotypical or mean or catty. They were the ones, the people that got you through those moments and that were, like, 'It's okay, we got your back.' And also, as a parent, I wanted to portray friendships that you just wish for your kids. Like, if anything, those are the types of friends you wish, you hope that they find. Because if you're not there, they're not gonna come to you with all of those issues or questions or problems. You certainly hope that they're going to the people around them, to their friends. It was absolutely intentional, and if anything, it feels like it was actually more true to a lot of our own experiences."

It was interesting that Collins also mentioned presenting the types of friendships they all had when they were kids and how they wanted to present the kind of friendships parents hope that their kids will have when they get older. Turning Red grapples with the reality that kids will drift away from their parents as they get older and, while I'm not a parent, it must be reassuring to see your kid surrounded by good people who have their back when that inevitable drift happens. Pixar is always looking to be a family movie where we all get something out of the story and not just a kid's movie.

Disney and Pixar's "Turning Red" introduces Mei Lee (voice of Rosalie Chiang), a confident, dorky 13-year-old torn between staying her mother's dutiful daughter and the chaos of adolescence. Her protective, if not slightly overbearing mother, Ming (voice of Sandra Oh), is never far from her daughter—an unfortunate reality for the teenager. And as if changes to her interests, relationships, and body weren't enough, whenever she gets too excited (which is practically ALWAYS), she "poofs" into a giant red panda! Directed by Academy Award® winner Domee Shi (Pixar short "Bao") and produced by Lindsey Collins "Turning Red releases on March 11, 2022.

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About Kaitlyn Booth

Kaitlyn is the Editor-in-Chief at Bleeding Cool. She loves movies, television, and comics. She's a member of the UFCA and the GALECA. Feminist. Writer. Nerd. Follow her on Twitter @katiesmovies and @safaiagem on Instagram.
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