Domee Shi arrived at Pixar in 2011 as an intern. The first film she worked on at the studio was Inside Out, on which she served as a storyboard artist, followed by The Good Dinosaur, Incredibles 2, and Toy Story 4. In 2018, she made her directorial debut with Bao — becoming the first woman to direct a short for Pixar — and won the Oscar for Best Animated Short Film.
Shi's feature debut is Turning Red, a semi-autobiographical, coming-of-age comedy about dorky 13-year-old Meilin Lee, who magically transforms into a giant red panda when she hits puberty. The Chinese-born writer, director, and animator mined her own teenage years as a self-proclaimed anime nerd living in early-aughts Toronto for the movie. With it, Shi became the first woman with a sole directing credit on a Pixar feature.
"When I'm very old and I look back at all the films that I've made, I think it'd be cool if you can see me grow and change and evolve with my movies as well. Because I feel that way about all of the filmmakers [that I love]. I feel like when I watch their films, I can get a sense of who they were at the time making it. They were that assertive, fiery, young auteur filmmaker who didn't get any respect, or they were this aged, old veteran with so much wisdom and life experience, and they just had so many great observations about the world. I want people to be able to tell who I was when they watch my movies," Shi says. More importantly, she adds, "I just want to keep doing this forever!"
A little over a decade since her internship, Shi now serves as Pixar's creative vice president and a member of the studio's vaunted Braintrust. Turning Red, meanwhile, is a Best Animated Feature nominee at the 95th Oscars. "Hopefully it shows studios moving forward that these types of stories and these storytellers deserve to be invested in," says the filmmaker, "and you will get a good return if you invest in diverse stories and storytellers."
Below, Shi shares with A.frame the five films that most inspire her. "And if you look through all of the movies," she notes, "you can see the influences in Turning Red."
Written and Directed by: Hayao Miyazaki
Kiki's Delivery Service is one of my favorite films to revisit again and again. It's such an amazing film, not just because it's beautiful, but it also shows such an accurate and truthful but also magical portrayal of being an adolescent girl — moving into the big city and having to deal with real life, having to deal with disappointment, and being lost, and having artistic block and feeling s****y.
I also love how the film showcases so many incredible older women in Kiki's life who give her advice along the way, and mentor her, and help her. It's just such an incredible movie about what it means to be a girl and a woman. And there's cute s**t in there too. There's a cute talking cat. It's amazing. It's Hayao Miyazaki. I don't know how he has an inner teen girl inside of him, but it's the most accurate, authentic portrayal of what it means to be an adolescent girl in animation.
Directed by: Mamoru Hosoda | Written by: Satoko Okudera
The Girl Who Leapt Through Time is another Japanese animated film, and it was one of my favorite films in college. I'd watch it again and again and again. It's a story about a teenage girl who gets magical powers to travel backwards and forwards through time, but I love how she abuses it and uses it in a very teenager-y way. She uses her powers to go back and do the same karaoke hour again, and again, and again, so she doesn't have to pay extra, or she goes back in time to eat her favorite meal at dinnertime again, and again, and again. I was so inspired by that.
Even though this character has this special power, because of who she is, she uses it and abuses it in a very specific and unique way. And I was really inspired by it for Turning Red. It embodies a lot of the angstiness and ridiculousness of being a teenager. There's a love triangle in there too. It's just a lot of fun.
Directed by: Edgar Wright | Written by: Michael Bacall and Edgar Wright
I'm a huge fan of Edgar Wright. His movies are so fun, and stylish, and just a visual spectacle. This film was extra inspiring for me because it was set in Toronto — which is my hometown — and where Turning Red takes place as well. I love how he pushes the style in his movies so much. He's really drawn from the comic book that it was based off of and the cartooniness of the characters. It's Scott versus all of these evil ex-boyfriends of this girl that he likes, and they go into these fun action scenes, and they use color, and light, and really exaggerated camera moves. It's also funny. There's a lot of really funny visual humor in this movie, and I love how he uses it in such an amazing way.
Written and Directed by: Greta Gerwig
I remember when I watched this movie, I was so blown away by this unfiltered depiction of this mother-teen daughter relationship. I love Lady Bird's spunkiness and her independent spirit, but I also loved seeing how Greta didn't shy away from the ugliness of mother-daughter relationships. She showed how they could be at each other's throats, but then in the very next scene, just be shopping together at Goodwill and trying stuff on. There is that crazy contrast of love and hate that mothers and teen daughters have that I was really inspired by. It made me look back at my relationship with my mom and be like, 'Oh yeah, we are like that too.'
There's also this really great friendship that Lady Bird has with her best friend, and these really real, cute, fun, authentic moments where they're hanging out and just eating an entire wheel of cheese. I really love that authenticity and that specificity.
Directed by: Wes Anderson | Written by: Wes Anderson and Owen Wilson
I love Rushmore. I love how brassy, and assertive, and confident, and nerdy this protagonist is, and he's kind of this nerdy hero. He knows what he wants, he's this confident boss, but then, he's also this loser kid who's not very good at school and gets kicked out. I was really inspired by that character — this confident, dorky hero — for our movie.
I also, of course, love Wes Anderson's visual style. I love how he pushes the colors and the compositions in all of his shots. And I was really inspired by that in the style of Turning Red and looking at how we could push style and composition within animation to tell our story. It's such a funny, quirky story, and I just love how nerdy he is.