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DUBAI: Eleven years ago, Domee Shi, the director of the latest Disney/Pixar film “Turning Red,” sat in the Pixar cafeteria with the only four other women who worked in the story department. She was a 23-year-old intern, lacking in confidence and yet to find her storytelling voice, harboring a quiet dream she was about to share for the first time.

“During this lunch, we decided to go around the table saying our goals,” Shi told Arab News. “It was the first time I said out loud, ‘I want to direct.’ I was immediately very embarrassed and went on to say, “Oh no!” Why did I just say that?

As she covered her face in shame, something happened that she hadn’t expected. the women began to cheer him on.

“Turning Red” is Shi’s first feature film as a director. (Provided)

“Everyone was like, ‘Yes! Yes! Yes!’ I think just saying it, spreading it, being around people who support you and validate you, can make you feel less alone,” Shi says. “It can feel so lonely to be a woman. , to be a person of color in this industry. Finding these allies is so important to help you not feel alone as you struggle and grow in this industry. It was so huge for me.

“Turning Red” is Shi’s feature debut, following her Oscar-winning short “Bao,” the first Pixar short to be directed by a woman. The new feature lays bare many aspects of Shi’s heart: it’s an ode to the kind of friends she was talking about earlier; a dissection of mother-daughter relationships; and a love letter to the world she grew up in: Toronto in the early 2000s – full of diverse cultures and boy bands galore.

“At Pixar, they really encourage their filmmakers to draw their stories from personal experience. I think you can see that in early films like ‘Monsters, Inc.’ starring Pete Docter, and his relationship with his newborn baby at the time. to be a new father. I think even then they were following the same philosophy,” says Shi.

“In making this movie, I was really encouraged to look into my personal experience, growing up as a clumsy, grumpy 14-year-old girl and just trying to put as much as I could into the movie to try to reach and connect with the public. I was this dopey, sassy, ​​nerdy Chinese-Canadian young woman who thought she had everything under control. I was momma’s sweet little girl, and then boom! Puberty hit, and I was fatter. I was hairier. I was hungry all the time. I was a hormonal mess. And I was fighting with my mom, like, every other day,” she continues.

“Turning Red” makes this transformation much more literal. Meilin Lee, a 13-year-old Chinese-Canadian girl, wakes up one day to find that whenever she experiences a strong emotional state, she turns into a gigantic red panda – something she can’t keep down. under control only with the support of his friends.

“I feel like the overall theme of the movie is so universal. It’s about this child coming of age and trying to figure out who she should be, and how she can honor her parents and herself- same at the same time. This universality allowed us to be more specific and niche in our creative decisions,” Shi explains.

Shi also broke new ground on the filmmaking side, making it the first Pixar film to move away from the studio’s signature animation sensibility and create a new hybrid with anime. (Provided)

“That’s one of the reasons you go to see a movie, to enter a world that you may not know. Here, for the first time, audiences can step into this very specific world of an Asian teenager growing up in Canada and have a window into her life, making dumplings with her mother and watching soap operas and spending time with her super multicultural friends. It is also full of Canadianisms and little Chinese Easter eggs. This richness is what drives the public to lean.

Shi also broke new ground on the filmmaking side, making it the first Pixar film to stray from the studio’s signature animation sensibility and create a new hybrid with anime – a bold move and one that the Pixar team wholeheartedly embraced.

“The team was so excited and so excited to try this anime-Pixar hybrid style between East and West to tell this story. Everyone was so eager to jump in and learn the oriental animation styles. Not everyone in the crew knew what ‘Sailor Moon’s eyes were, or why she was sweating when she tried to hide her sketchbook from her mother,’ Shi explains. We really created a cultural exchange.

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