Why Pixar's 'Turning Red' is a 'love letter' to the noughties (exclusive)

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·3-min read

Watch: Domee Shi discusses the noughties setting of Turning Red

Oscar-winning Pixar director Domee Shi said she chose to set her animated feature debut Turning Red in 2002 as a 'love letter' to her childhood.

The film follows a Chinese-Canadian teenager who begins to experience the effects of a family curse when she turns 13: she transforms into an enormous red panda whenever she becomes agitated.

Bao director Shi's story is set between 2002 and 2003, featuring plenty of cultural references familiar to anybody who was around at that time — including flip-phones and Tamagotchis.

Read more: New movies and TV coming to Disney+ in March

"That was the time period where I grew up, when I was 13, and I just felt the most confident about telling a story about a girl coming of age in that era before social media, I think," Shi told Yahoo.

'Turning Red' tells the story of a group of friends obsessed with a boyband in 2002. (Disney/Pixar)
'Turning Red' tells the story of a group of friends obsessed with a boyband in 2002. (Disney/Pixar)

She added: "I just have so much love and nostalgia for the early 2000s, especially the music and the boybands and the Tamagotchis, all of the little props and accessories. I just really wanted to make a love letter to that era."

Producer Lindsey Collins said the time period was crucial to keeping the world of smartphones and social platforms away from the story.

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"It's before social media, so it makes the growing up story feel a little bit more contained and more specific to her family and her friends versus the rest of the world," said the Pixar veteran.

"That was kind of a nice thing to do, to be able to contain it to her surroundings. The story wasn't influenced by the rest of the world necessarily."

Watch a trailer for Turning Red

The setting posed a real challenge for leading lady Rosalie Chiang as well, given she wasn't even born in the years shown on screen.

The teenage acting newcomer was originally brought in to record temporary vocals for the lead character, but Shi eventually opted to cast the young star to be the permanent actor.

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 21: Domee Shi, Rosalie Chiang, Sandra Oh and Lindsay Collins attend the UK Gala screening of
Domee Shi, Rosalie Chiang, Sandra Oh and Lindsay Collins attend the UK Gala screening of "Turning Red" (Dave J Hogan/Getty Images)

Chiang said: "Obviously, I haven't lived in 2002, but this is based on Domee's childhood and I've worked very closely for the last four years with Domee.

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"She gave me a lot of insight and understanding about the time period and what it was like and how she felt."

Domee Shi delved into her own childhood, and added an enormous red panda, for the story of 'Turning Red'. (Disney/Pixar)
Domee Shi delved into her own childhood, and added an enormous red panda, for the story of 'Turning Red'. (Disney/Pixar)

Turning Red is another original outing for Pixar, which has embraced non-sequel material for its last four features — Onward, Soul, Luca and now Shi's film.

The movie has already received strong reviews from critics, with a 94% approval score on aggregator Rotten Tomatoes at the time of rating.

Read more: The inspirations behind Pixar movie Luca

According to the site's critical consensus, Turning Red is "heart-warming, humorous, beautifully animated, and culturally expansive".

Turning Red is available to stream for Disney+ subscribers from 11 March.

Watch: Trailer for Pixar animation Turning Red

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