“Turning Red” marked a real turning point for Pixar this year. The Disney-owned animation studio debuted its first Asian-led film, and it was critically acclaimed upon release.
Rosalie Chiang stars as Meilin, or Mei, a confident Toronto tween who, when she hits puberty, turns into a red panda when overcome by strong emotions. Chiang was cast when she was just 12 years old; now 16, the star has reflected in a new interview on the “surreal” honor to voice the first Asian lead character in a Pixar movie.
“I feel like it hasn’t really hit me that I’m the first Asian lead because I’m already grappling with the fact that I’m leading a Pixar movie in the first place,” Chiang told Seventeen. “To break this barrier feels very validating because it’s not just, oh, we took a random character and made her Asian. The fact that Mei is Asian plays a lot into the movie because there’s so much Asian culture in it, specifically Chinese culture. I hope people watch this movie and see it as a door to another culture and family life.”
Chiang added that “Turning Red” character Mei was “sort of my guide to puberty and coming of age” since she grew up during production.
“I never related to coming-of-age stories at all when I watched them — I felt like they had this airbrushed, filtered feel to them, where they weren’t showing all of the imperfections,” Chiang said. “But this movie does a great job at doing so. It’s the first coming-of-age film that I truly resonated with.”
IndieWire critic Kate Erbland called the film Pixar’s first great coming-of-age comedy that is an “instant classic.”
Chiang continued that “Turning Red” was also “almost like [director and co-writer] Domee [Shi’s] autobiography”…plus a giant panda.
“I feel like so many people resonated with the fact that we love our parents and we don’t want to disappoint them, but at the same time, it can be consuming,” Chiang summed up. “The best advice I got from Sandra Oh was to be kind to yourself. I think she knows that me, and other teenagers out there, can be super critical of ourselves and beat ourselves up over the tiniest thing. But Sandra said, just take a moment and be nice to yourself.”
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