After landing on Disney+ in March to a largely positive bang, director Domee Shi’s feature-length debut Turning Red is headed home for purchase. Much like the Oscar-winning Encanto from Walt Disney Animation Studios, Shi’s Pixar film explores generational trauma through a magical lens, but the twist is several fold: it serves as a means of exploring maternal relationships and the bonds of friendship while working to normalize conversations around the menstrual cycle. In so doing, there spawned a great deal of conversation in support of and against such a narrative, but, speaking as a cishet male, there’s no doubt in my mind what an absolute breath of fresh air Turning Red is — not just for the aspects it explores, but the way it does it. If you feel as I do, rejoice that Turning Red is available for digital ownership now and has a physical release coming May 3rd.
If you’re interested in a spoiler-free take on Turning Red, please head over to the initial Disney+ spoiler-free review. Moving forward, there will be detailed discussion of the film.
When not at school excelling in class, 13-year-old Meilin Lee (voiced by Rosalie Chiang) is helping out at the Lee Family Temple, praying, cleaning, and leading tours with her mother Ming (voiced by Sandra Oh). Taking great delight in doing things with her mother, Meilin (also known as Mei) can handle the ribbing she gets from her friends Priya (voiced by Maitreyi Ramakrishnan), Miriam (voiced by Ava Morse), and Abby (voiced by Hyein Park) because she knows they love her no matter what. This comes in handy when Mei wakes up one morning having changed into a giant red panda. Turns out that Mei is one in a long line of women who were blessed with the ability to make such a transformation, though the prior two generations sought to suppress their pandas as they found them too hard to control. Hoping to help her daughter, Ming sets about planning the ritual to remove the panda from Mei, except Ming doesn’t realize that not only does Mei enjoy her panda-self but she can use it to help her and her friends go see their favorite band, 4*Town. When pressed, Mei will have to choose between accepting the person she’s becoming or going back to who she was.
First off, if you’ve seen the film and loved it, it’s unclear at what point any kind of material is added onto Disney+, so those who want insight into the creation of the narrative, animation, and music will have to snag a non-Disney+ version in order to get a hold of those bonus materials. The press release indicates that the listed materials (included below) may vary by retailer. I can speak with certainty that the Movies Anywhere and iTunes editions of Turning Red include all of the noted materials except “Easter Egg – Robutton Deleted Scene.” Disney was kind enough to supply a digital code for this home release, so my experience is limited in scope. I have been unable to confirm by the time of this writing where the Robutton deleted scene is located, but it may be a safe bet that it’s included on the physical copy. So if you’re looking for all of the bonus materials, make sure to check carefully before purchasing.
What is included, though, is pretty great. Not only is there a feature-length audio commentary track that includes Shi, producer Lindsey Collins, and director of photography Mahyar Abousaeedi, there’s about 33 minutes of behind the scenes material split between three featurettes and over 23 minutes of deleted scenes, each with their own introduction. What I like about the featurettes is how each one is presented and how the material within is broken down. Unlike more traditional behind the scenes featurettes which utilize a lot of talking head interviews with still shots or footage of folks on set, the bulk of each is more dynamic. For instance, in “Life of a Shot,” members of different parts of the production team are overlaid onto the screen so that we can see whichever part of the animation process is going on while the speaker explains what they did. So whether we’re getting more information on the character designs, how long it took to shoot something as simple as Ming pulling the curtain open, the lighting in the bathroom, or the design of the menstrual pad boxes, we get to see what they’re talking about while the team member goes over the process within the context of the scene. This approach makes the learning process feel more holistic and in-depth compared to them being reduced to just a few talking points. This is similarly applied to the “Build Your Own Boy Band” and “Ani-Mei-Tion” featurettes, which — spoiler alert, 4*Townies — there are only three songs made for the film. Also, in what I think is a huge missed opportunity, there isn’t a music video included for any of them. Considering the number of parents who grew up with N*SYNC, 98°, The Backstreet Boys, and other bands of the era of Turning Red (not to mention New Kids on the Block, Boys II Men, New Edition, and Menudo), including some music videos would’ve been particularly entertaining.
Continuing with what is included, “Ani-Mei-Tion” does explore the various influences (a lot of anime) which inspired the look of Turning Red and offers a lot of technical explanation for how the look was achieved. What’s particularly fascinating is hearing how much the style of Turning Red breaks a lot of the rules of prior Disney films. Turning Red, for instance, features a lot of stiff movements or actions, where the character is stiff or still even if moving through the air. This is in great contrast to the fluid, more life-like movements of other projects. It’s choices like these, from physical movements to the presentation of character reactions, that help the film standout from traditional Disney or Pixar faire. In addition, there’re 23 minutes of deleted scenes which, in several cases, highlight what a different film Turning Red would be had some of them been left in. Given that the storyline with Tyler (voiced by Tristan Allerick Chen) is primarily confrontational and the reveal that he’s a Townie was meant to mend that aggression, the deleted scenes offer several shifts in the dynamic, including revealing his secret to the audience much earlier. Most of the deleted scenes are animatics with scratch voices, but “Intro Meilin” is fully rendered with the voice actors in an alternate opening which is referenced in the real opening via a photo. What’s nice about these deleted scenes is that, with each one, Shi explains why it was cut before we watch it. There’s been a trend in recent Disney animated releases to have such detailed and in-depth materials with the home release, each one offering a fairly deep dive into the process of making the film, so much so that, when gathered, home audiences could have a really strong sense of just how much work goes into making a single animated film. That right there is why home releases, specifically those with bonus materials, should continue: filmmaking is an art and such insider looks are treasure troves.
As someone whose recent animated favorites include Pompo: The Cinephile (2021), Jujutsu Kaisen: 0 (2022), BELLE (2021), and My Hero Academia: World Heroes’ Mission (2021), I found quite a bit to delight in within Mei’s journey, even if I couldn’t relate to the symbolism of her transformation. I loved the animation style, I loved the presentation of unquestionable friendship, and I wanted more of Jin Lee’s cooking (seriously, who else found their mouth watering with this scene?). I particularly enjoyed the opportunity that Turning Red creates to discuss menstrual cycles as they are something which has been shamed and shunned for centuries to the point that comedy is mined from its mere existence. Is it ok to laugh at bodily functions? I think so. But just like we have stories confirming for little kids that everyone poops, we should also be letting everyone be ok with the fact that some people bleed and it’s just part of how their bodies function. There are some individuals who can’t bear to speak menstruating as they see it as some horrible thing. It only is if that’s the mentality we pass down. Turning Red offers an opportunity to confront the past and change the present and future so that stories like Shi and co-writers Julia Cho (Fringe) feel less revolutionary. (By the by, Ms. Shi, if you think folks didn’t notice how you snuck in a character with an insulin infusion patch, we did. Way to work on normalizing that, too.)
If you feel like I do or just enjoy Turning Red for its early 2000s nostalgia, there’s little to feel disappointed by with the home release. Just make sure to pay attention to the edition you buy if getting all the materials matters to you.
Turning Red Special Features*:
- Audio Commentary – View the film with audio commentary by director Domee Shi, producer Lindsey Collins, and director of photography Mahyar Abousaeedi. (1:39:42)
- Three (3) Featurettes
- Life of a Shot – Domee Shi and members of the crew describe the many-layered process and artistry involved in creating the hilarious Red Peony scene – from observing red pandas in a zoo to creating a storyboard to finalizing the animation and background lighting. (14:35)
- Build Your Own Boy Band – Step backstage to learn how 4*Town came to animated life. From creating each band member’s persona to writing and producing the songs to fine-tuning the details of their stadium performance, the filmmakers reveal how they designed the ultimate boy band. (8:34)
- Ani-Mei-Tion – Because Mei’s heightened emotionality is central to the story, it was important that her look and movement reflect that energy. Learn how Domee Shi led the animation team to incorporate hints of expressive anime to create Mei’s lovable, dynamic character. (9:35)
- Eight (8) Deleted Scenes (23:17)
- Deleted Scenes Introduction – Director Domee Shi introduces scenes not included in the final version of Turning Red. (0:47)
- Intro Meilin – In this alternate opening, Ming and young Mei have their portrait taken in a studio…but Ming has her own specific vision for the photo. (2:10)
- Taming the Panda – Under her mother’s guidance, Mei learns techniques to control her ability to magically turn into a red panda…to varying degrees of success. (4:33)
- The Debate – Mei runs for class president against frenemy Tyler, and the speeches get a little out of hand. (4:17)
- Fei and Christina Hang – Mei (formerly Fei) shares a banana split while having a heart-to-heart with Aunt Christina. (2:30)
- 4*Town Dilemma – Mei scores tickets to her dream concert, but her strict mother won’t let her out of the house. What will she do? (4:44)
- Roping In Leo – Pleading with Leo for help with getting out of trouble, Mei learns a couple of his closely guarded secrets. (4:17)
- Easter Egg – Robutton Deleted Scene – An alternate ending in which Mei, finding herself sitting next to her 4*Town dream-idol Robaire on a flight to California, has some feelings.
*bonus features vary by product and retailer
Available on Disney+ March 11th, 2022.
Available on digital April 26th.
Available on 4K UHD, Blu-ray, and DVD May 3rd, 2022.
For more information, head to Pixar’s official Turning Red webpage.