‘Turning Red’ Director Domee Shi and Sandra Oh Break Down That Bittersweet Endinge

The newest Pixar film, Turning Red, is an ode to both the all-consuming sensation of tweenage embarrassment and the complicated relationships between Asian girls and their mothers—something filmmaker Domee Shi has wanted to explore since the success of her Oscar–winning 2018 short film, Bao.

Set in early-2000s Toronto, Turning Red follows 13-year-old Mei (Rosalie Chiang) as she navigates eighth grade, friendship, and her all-consuming boy band obsession. (Not since the days of A Goofy Movie has an animated concert scene so accurately embodied the thrill of seeing your childhood idols live.) All the while, she’s also grappling with the expectations of her mother, Ming (Sandra Oh)—and her body’s new habit of suddenly transforming into a giant red panda whenever she gets overwhelmed by her emotions.

Below, Vanity Fair spoke with Shi and Oh about the inspiration behind Ming’s character, as well as the implications of the film’s climactic, pivotal scene between Mei, Ming, and their family’s matriarchs. (Warning: major spoilers ahead!) 

Courtesy of Pixar.

Vanity Fair: Domee, I’ve heard that some of the craziest moments in the film are based on things that happened to you, regarding your own relationship with your mom when you were a kid.

Domee Shi: Yes. My mom definitely did follow me on my first day of middle school. I walked out of the building—I thought I made some new friends!—and then one of them goes, “Domee, who’s that lady staring at you from behind the tree?” And then I look up, and it’s my mom, and she has sunglasses on.

Sandra Oh: [gasps] No!

Shi: Like, “Oh, she wouldn’t recognize me if I put on my sunglasses.” So she hid back behind the tree. I was like, “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, although my mother did not fight with the Sikh security guard.

Sandra, what most interested you in taking on the role of Ming, the mother in the film?

Oh: An entire Pixar film that focuses on the inner life of a 13-year-old Chinese-Canadian girl—just the fact of that, where we’re gonna spend an entire movie with her—that is truly why I wanted to be a part of it. And to work with Domee, fellow Canadian! I was really excited for those two reasons.

To be able to lend the voice and to hold the perspective of a fraught relationship between Asian girls and their moms, it was a real honor. You might think you know who Ming is at the beginning of the film, but there’s a lot of humor and wackiness and her own personal pain that is revealed.

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