Domee Shi, Director Of Pixar’s Turning Red, Doesn’t Understand The Objections Over The Coming-Of-Age Story’s Menstruation References: “It Just Seemed So Normal” - 8 Days Skip to main content

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Domee Shi, Director Of Pixar’s Turning Red, Doesn’t Understand The Objections Over The Coming-Of-Age Story’s Menstruation References: “It Just Seemed So Normal”

 The Oscar-winning animator also weighs in on the decision to release Turning Red straight to Disney+.

Domee Shi, Director Of Pixar’s Turning Red, Doesn’t Understand The Objections Over The Coming-Of-Age Story’s Menstruation References: “It Just Seemed So Normal”

Domee Shi, the director of Pixar’s Turning Red, isn’t ready to make a live-action movie.

Speaking to 8days.sg and other journos, Shi said, “I feel like I’m not done in animation yet.” It’s still too early for the 33-year-old to follow Pixar alums Andrew Stanton (Wall-E) and Brad Bird (The Incredibles) and cross over to the live-action realm.

After all, she only has one feature under her belt, Turning Red. 

Released in March directly to Disney+, Turning Red tells the coming-of-age story of Mei Lee (voiced by Rosalie Chiang), a 13-year-old Chinese-Canadian middle-school girl who morphs into a giant red panda when triggered by emotions. It's Pixar Animations Studio's first Asian-fronted feature.

Shi was recently in town for a masterclass at Animation Nation, a showcase organised by the Singapore Film Society.

The China-born, California-based Canadian joined Pixar as a story intern in 2011. She went on to work as a story artist on Inside Out. Her other credits include The Good Dinosaur, Incredibles 2 and Toy Story 4. Shi’s big break came with Bao, an eight-minute short — about a woman whose handmade dumplings come alive! —  she wrote and directed, which won an Oscar for Best Animated Short Film.

Turning Red scored 95 percent on Rotten Tomatoes and is tipped to be a contender in next year’s Oscar race for Best Animated Feature. It’s also up for a Grammy in the Best Song Written for Visual Media category for ‘Nobody Like U’, written by Billie Eilish and Finneas O’Connell.

While the movie was well-received by fans and critics alike, there was a minority of viewers who took issue with its metaphors for puberty and menstruation references (one scene sees Meilin’s mother, voiced by Sandra Oh, handing her a box of sanitary pads). 

Shi found their objections a little baffling.

“We set out to make an authentic, funny movie about a girl going through big changes in her life,” said Shi. “In order to tell a truthful story, we had to show her going through those changes — getting her period, fighting with her mum, lusting after boys. It was just something all of us — me, the writer, Julia Cho, production designer Rona Liu, the producer Lindsay Collins and visual effects lead Danielle Feinberg — went through.

She added, “This was Pixar’s first movie led by like an all-female team, so we all looked to our own experiences in our lives and we didn't want to shy away from that because it was embarrassing and awkward and confusing. We wanted to shine a light on those moments just how everyone went through it and to normalise it too.”

About the controversial pad scenes, Shi said, “We didn’t think too much of it other than it was a funny gag. We didn’t think too much of it because it just seemed so normal — half the world goes through it and it didn’t feel like it’d be a big deal.

"But I kind of think it’s awesome that our cute little dorky movie riled so many people up and started so many important conversations too.”

Below, Shi opens up about her initiation reactions when she was told that Turning Red will go straight to streaming, and the secrets to filming animated food.

8 DAYS: Because of the pandemic, Pixar started releasing its movies, including Turning Red, directly on Disney+. Some believe that strategy may have conditioned people to expect to see Pixar’s newest releases at home and that’s why Lightyear underperformed at the cinemas. How disappointed were you when you were told that Turning Red is bound for Disney+?

DOMEE SHI: Well, I can't speak for Lightyear, but when we were making Turning Red, we had every intention for it to be seen on the big screen. So, it was definitely a disappointment when we got the call from Disney that it was gonna be switched to Disney+. But then I reflected on it. This was early 2022 when Covid was still a thing and not everybody was returning to theatres, especially families. I think a lot of them were nervous about going back to theatres because their kids were not vaccinated at the time. I just thought the most important thing for me right now is to have this movie be seen by as many people as possible. So, our goals kind of shifted to that.

And the solution was Disney+, so families could safely watch and enjoy the movie from home without the anxiety of going out to a theatre. Also, my love for animation started as a kid. My parents bought Aladdin on VHS for me. That was the first time I watched an animated film, at home in my living room. I popped the VHS in and I just watched it on repeat. The opportunity for families and kids to be able to enjoy our movie immediately and have them able to rewind, pause and replay their favourite moments was really appealing to me. Also, since we've released Turning Red and I’ve gone to several events and screenings and met fans; I’ve had adults, like parents, coming up to me and thanking me for releasing the movie on Disney+. They said, “I don’t know how we would've been able to see this movie if this wasn't on Disney+”. So, yeah, I think my opinion of the [Disney+ strategy] has changed over time.

Are you ready to make a live-action crossover, following the footsteps of Pixar alums Andrew Stanton and Brad Bird?

Not yet. I feel like I’m still not done with animation yet. I feel like, especially, in the West, there's still so much potential to be explored in the stylisation of animation and in the themes that animation can tackle. I just love the power of animation, too. And the control that I have as a director in animation is amazing. To be able to control a character's eye blink or a slight furrow of the eyebrows with the correct amount of frames and the speed — I love getting into the nitty-gritty details of that stuff that I feel like if I were doing that in live-action, people would think I was insane (laughs).

What’s the secret to photographing animated food? Those scenes of Meiling’s father cooking are amazing!

All of that is done by our effects department. They're just all very talented computer wizards. They studied what makes food look delicious and you have to look at it like you're a food photographer. You have to like exaggerate food details, like making things look extra shiny, which means it looks extra delicious. You have to up the saturation. Like it can’t look dull. It has to be colourful. Then, the sounds really help with the sizzle and everything that helps all make it look really mouth-watering.

                    

I spoke to Rosalie Chiang, the voice behind Meiling, back in March and she said she has a few ideas for a Turning Red sequel, one of them being about Meiling’s life in college.

That’s really funny. I hope there’s a Turning Red 2. We’ll see.

Turning Red and Bao are now streaming on Disney+.

Photos: Disney+

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