March 16, 2022
What do you get when a 13-year-old girl suddenly realizes she’s turned into a smelly, large red panda?
That is the premise of Disney Pixar’s latest feature film Turning Red, out on Disney+ this past Friday, which centers Chinese Canadian straight-A student Mei Lee (Rosalie Chiang) as she navigates a family gift that sometimes feels like a curse.
As she learns more about her abilities, Mei turns to her family, her sometimes overbearing mother Ming (Sandra Oh) and home cook extraordinaire father Jin (Orion Lee). She also looks to her three besties: Miriam Mendelsohn (Ava Morse), Priya Mangal (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan), and Abby Park (Hyein Park). The film takes place in 2002 Toronto, so there are many nostalgic moments for current millennials, but the story also feels timeless. One of the joys to watch is Priya, who says few words, but is very loyal. It might be the first time we’ve seen an Indian Canadian main character in a Disney Pixar movie.
Mei soon realizes that the red panda comes out when she feels a lot of emotions, and as she calms down, breathes, and goes to a happier place — often by thinking of memories of her friends — she turns back to her old self, now with red hair. But there is also a darkness to the panda. In filmmaker Domee Shi’s expert hands — she’s behind the award-winning short Bao — the movie also explores what it means to stick up for one’s friends, how the bonds between a mother and daughter are fraught with both love and tension, and why repressing emotions isn’t always the answer. It’s sometimes okay to let the red panda out.
We sat down with Maitreyi Ramakrishnan to chat more about her first Disney Pixar movie, Turning Red.