EMERYVILLE, Calif. — It’s a sunny but chilly morning as Domee Shi and Lindsey Collins walk through the Pixar Animation Studios in Emeryville.
This is a moment of calm for both women, who have spent the last month on the awards circuit for their work on the animated film “Turning Red.”
The movie is nominated for an Academy Award this year.
Winning an Oscar would be historic for Shi, who became the first woman to solo direct a Pixar feature film. Collins is nominated as producer.
They both credit the mostly female leadership team for the bold story about a young girl going through puberty.
“It just didn’t fell taboo for us because we’ve all been through it. So I think you are gonna start to see more of these stories that push the boundaries what’s taboo because the storytellers are so different now,” said Shi.
Collins worked on the Oscar winning films “Finding Nemo,” “Ratatouille,” and “WALL-E.”
But this is her first Oscar nomination because producers were not included in the best animated feature category until 2013. She views Shi as the next generation of Pixar storytellers.
“I think there is a willingness in this generation to talk about more things more openly. We’re trying to be very thoughtful about how do we make sure we’re telling kind of diverse stories and different types of stories” said Collins.
“Turning Red” certainly breaks barriers.
It tells the story of a 13-year-old Chinese-Canadian girl who navigates the anxiety and emotions of puberty, and a family legacy that transforms her into a giant red panda.
“It’s a baby step towards normalizing girl puberty or just puberty in general,” said Shi. “Growing up is messy and hairy and horny and weird. But, we’ve all been through it and it’s totally normal and okay.”
Collins said the production staff was able to tap into their own experiences growing up as young girls.
“We didn’t kind of second guess some of the more kind of bold and radical scenes in the film, the cringey ones. I think all of us felt like we had those moments,” explained Collins.
Shi has received letters from fans, many of them young girls, thanking her for the movie and helping them through a difficult time.
Making the movie during the pandemic was its own challenge. The team had to spend a lot of time isolated at home and communicating through video calls.
Then, the U.S. theatrical release in January of 2022 was cancelled by a COVID-19 surge forcing the movie to go straight to streaming.
Shi and the rest of the production team missed out on an in-person media tour. So now, Shi is reveling in the awards ceremonies.
“It’s just such a surreal and amazing experience to be able to just go there and like meet fellow nominees,” said Shi. “To talk to people like Cate Blanchett who’s watched it with her kids and loves it. I can’t believe this is happening.”
Shi is not new to the red carpet. In 2019, she won an Oscar for the short animated film Bao, about a mother suffering from empty nest syndrome.
Shi used her moment on the Oscar’s stage to send a message to future storytellers.
“To all the nerdy girls out there who hide behind their sketchbooks don’t be afraid to tell your stories to the world,” said Shi as she held up her Oscar statue during the 2019 Academy Awards ceremony.
She is excited that “Turning Red” is nominated in a year where “Everything Everywhere All at Once” is gaining so much attention.
At their core, both movies are about the relationship between mother and daughter in a Chinese immigrant family.
“I see them as like our older sister movie to our movie. It could be like a really fun double feature,” expressed Shi, who is working on a new project.
It’s not a sequel to “Turning Red.” Shi won’t reveal what it’s about except to say not another movie about a mother-child relationship.
“After making ‘Bao,’ I realized I still had things I would like to unpack in that relationship with my mom, but after a short and a feature I think I’m good,” she said laughingly.
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