Making a fuss at Disney+, Pixar blushes will be available digitally on April 26 and on Blu-ray on May 3. Directed by Domi Shih, the film stars Rosalie Chung, Sandra Oh, Ava Morse, Maitreyi Ramakrishnan, Hein Pak and Orion Lee.
The film introduces Mei Li, a cocky, dim-witted 13-year-old girl who is torn between being her mother’s obedient daughter and the chaos of adolescence, reads the synopsis. “Her protective if not slightly overbearing mother, Ming, is always there for her daughter – an unpleasant reality for a teenager. And as if changing her interests, relationships, and body wasn’t enough, whenever she gets too turned on (which is almost ALWAYS), she farts on a giant red panda!
ComingSoon Editor-in-Chief spoke with blushes director Domi Shi to discuss the film, its depiction of intergenerational trauma, the impact of anime, and more.
Tyler Treese: First of all, congratulations on your recent promotion to VP Creative at Pixar. What did it mean to you to get the support of the company in this very public and financial show that they trust and believe in your vision?
Domi Shi: This is amazing. I definitely feel very grateful that Pixar really embraced this movie and really supported it and me as a director and a voice in the studio. I just feel incredibly grateful and responsible for just giving back all the support I have received throughout my Pixar experience and helping the next generation of filmmakers truly thrive like I do in the studio.
I thought Turning Red started out so well. I love how in the beginning he kind of captured just the excitement and a bit of the awkwardness of wanting to be independent and wanting to be more mature than you really are as a teenager, and it set the general themes so well. How important was it to make the discovery and introduce all these characters at the very beginning of the film?
Yes, it was really important for us from the very beginning of the film to start with such an explosion. Start the movie in a way we haven’t seen in a Pixar movie yet, and in the very first draft written by Sarah Streicher, the film’s original writer, we drew inspiration from John Hughes, Ferris Bueller. Of the many teen sitcoms we grew up with, for example Clarissa explains it all or Lizzie McGuirewhere characters like the very strong and brash female protagonists just break the fourth wall and talk straight into the camera. It was just important to us that the audience really fell in love with May from the very beginning.
You definitely hit the mark.
There have been some, but it’s pretty rare to watch a Disney or Pixar movie that doesn’t actually have a traditional evil villain. What was it like to just break out of that structure and just tell that story?
Yes, it was really fun. I think it’s more difficult in a good way to try to write a story and come up with a conflict that doesn’t involve a sinister super evil muahah-like sinister antagonist. But I think you see this trend a lot in a lot of animated films like Encanto just exploring this idea that the antagonist is more like intergenerational trauma because it’s an interesting, juicy and very relevant topic that I think touches on many. people. I was just really excited to do a deep dive into it.
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The transformation aspect is so funny, but I wanted to ask because red pandas are so tiny and adorable, and Mei the panda is still very, very cute. But how did you decide to turn into just a giant red panda? It’s such a fun concept.
Yeah. I really wanted to make a film with a red panda [laughs] because they are so cute and rarely seen in movies. I thought it would be funny and even cuter if he was 10 times bigger than a normal red panda. It also seemed like the perfect metaphor for puberty. Because something big, hairy and red is, in my opinion, a great metaphor for menstruation. For all the emotions that seem to boil inside you at that age.
Then he just really just answered that question like «Why animation?» because who wouldn’t want to see this girl balancing between a human and a giant furry red panda. Her size also helps in part for her awkwardness and teenageness. Just to see how uncomfortable she was in her new, big body, how she knocked over things, how she could not fit into her bed or clothes. It was like all of this was just helping to serve the story we wanted to tell.
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You talked about intergenerational trauma and I thought it was interesting how you explore it in the film because you see May’s mother, she has the same relationship with May’s grandmother. Then, with the curse of the red panda, there’s a sort of shifting of blame to him instead of responsibility, but I love that ultimately family relationships are based on that love and acceptance at the end. Can you talk about the simple study of this topic and how you decided to end it in such an enjoyable way?
Panda and the movie really represent all the mess that comes with growing up, like all the messy emotions that we start to develop as we get older, as we get older. But all the mess that society or our families have always advised us to mute, to try to get rid of, to control, to move in society. May’s mom, her grandmother and her family grew up in a different generation where they had to get rid of their pandas. They had to get rid of the dirty side in themselves and force them to survive in order to live and thrive in harsher conditions.
But Mei has something they didn’t have. She has a great friend support system. She lives in a different generation and doesn’t have to follow the same path her mom and her family took. So she is the first in her family who has decided to accept and keep this mess, to truly celebrate it and incorporate it into her life. But that doesn’t mean we blame or condemn her family for her mom or grandma for what they did because they had to do it. They didn’t have friends like Mei. So in this story, we kind of just explore how each generation affects the previous one and how the new generation [doesn’t] have to grow up in such a harsh world that their parents and grandparents went through. So they can be different, and in that sense they can break the cycle.
Pixar movies always have top notch presentation, but I thought it was so classy and a lot of it had to do with anime influences. What was the problem trying to apply this to 3d animation? Because it’s not something we see very often.
It was a really exciting challenge for the whole team. We were excited to come up with this new style because it’s all just about wanting to portray the world and animation through our protagonist’s eyes, through Mei, this tangle of energy and teen girly. So, from the very beginning, we were looking at anime from the 90s, like Sailor Moon, Ranma 1/2. A very vibrant color palette for making their characters so expressive. It just really seemed like the perfect style to draw inspiration from to apply to Mei and her story, because Mei has so many strong emotions in the movie that just applying that more anime-cartoon style really helped the audience get a feel for how Mei was feeling. at any given moment.
It was difficult, but in a good way, because many of the team were not familiar with anime. So we had to do a crash course in anime style. For example, how to draw characters’ faces when they react to things like surprise, anger, or happiness. Like Sailor Moon eyes, how does it look in 3D? We just replicated a lot of the hair emotes that the simulation team did. Like every time Mei gets really angry, or you feel her anger boiling over, you see her hair start to stand up like a panda, but even like a human. We did a lot of testing just to see what it would look like. So it doesn’t look too unnatural, but it seems to be related to her emotions and done very subtly. I think it looks really cool and it again helps the viewers feel what Mei is feeling.
I think every department helped develop this anime inspired 3D style, such as hair emotion simulation, lighting for Sailor Moon eyes, and the whole urban landscape. It’s like a dreamy pastel, it feels like it was all lighting. Effects with all the beads of sweat and a pink cloud whenever Mei puffs back and forth between the man and the panda. This evidence cloud had to be designed to look believable and cute, but not realistic smoke. That’s all the effects. Then animation, of course, with very cheerful, expressive facial expressions. Then even in editing, in cutting, there is energy and liveliness in it. All the departments kind of came together to make it happen.
One thing that really touched me was my dad’s speech at the end, and I thought it resonated even more because he was so quiet and sort of in the background at the beginning of the movie. Can you talk about just saving him and making that moment more impactful in the final act?
Yeah. I love Jin. He is like the soft but stoic rock of the family. The film is mainly about Mei and her relationship with her mother and friends. But we certainly didn’t want to ignore the importance and influence of fathers on teenage daughters. I think for Jin, the way he loves his family is about acting and listening. This is also one of my favorite scenes. When he sort of sits down and talks to Mei, we show that he has been watching all this time. He happily keeps his distance but supports his wife and daughter when they need him. I think he knows when to come in and give much needed advice when needed. He’s kind of the quiet hero of the movie.