Entertainment, History & Now

‘Turning Red’ is everything if you grew up in the early 2000s

May Nokias live on forever.

words by: Alee Kwong
Mar 23, 2022

The early 2000s was a wild time. Anyone who experienced their formative years during this time can attest to that. It was a time of cyber-obsession, the height of pop music, low-waisted jeans (I’m internally screaming just thinking about this), and the world collectively losing their mind over Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake pulling up to the 2001 American Music Awards in a coordinated couple’s denim look. It was truly the Wild West of pop culture.


While the “Y2K” style is coming back in full swing, there’s nothing like watching a movie that takes you straight back to that time and drops you in through the lens of those who knew it best: Middle schoolers.


Pixar’s latest release, Turning Red, follows a 13-year-old Toronto-native Meilin “Mei” Lee as she takes on the 8th grade. The film feels extremely nostalgic with memories of yesteryear that feel like they happened yesterday. Let’s walk down the film’s memory lane together and forget that the early 2000s was twenty years ago (yeah, I said twenty).




If you didn’t accidentally kill your Tamagotchi pet at least once…you’re lying. Being responsible for a Tamagotchi digital pet taught us the bare minimum when it came to teaching us how to keep something alive. I swear that there’s a “Tamagotchi-to-plants” pipeline to be explored. Tamagotchi was first released by Bandai in November 1996 and became all the rage amongst kids and teens everywhere in the early 2000s.


Flip phones and the Nokia brick


Kids these days will never understand what it means to text using T9. There’s a good chance that any one of us could text at the same speed and accuracy if we had one of these phones back in our hands. The film showed the classic middle school obsession with texting and even featured classics like the flip phone, the sleek(ish) phone with the extendable antenna, and of course, the OG Nokia 3310 (renamed “Jokia” in the film).


While cellphones have been around since the 1970s, the peak of instant communication and information sharing was introduced at the start of the millennium.


Boy bands


Director Domee Shi was heavily inspired by boy bands like N*SYNC and O-Town when creating the film’s resident boy band, 4*Town. The boy band’s concept and sound were so reminiscent of the era that the reaction Mei and her friends expressed every time they were brought up or anytime one of their songs were being sung struck a huge chord with anyone who listened to the radio in the 2000s.


In an interview with Narcity, Sandra Oh (who plays Mei’s mother, Ming Lee,) said, “It’s also that beautiful time when friendship and music really become in the forefront, as a young person, on what you depend on and how you find your identity.”




Many of us (especially Asians) were raised on anime. Whether it was watching Sailor Moon, Doraemon, or the Shonen anime classics like Dragon Ball Z or Yu Yu Hakasho, anime was a large part of our upbringing. You’ll notice that Turning Red doesn’t look like a typical Pixar film, and diverges from the norm with a different art style.


Director Domee Shi was inspired by the anime series’ that defined her childhood like Sailor Moon, Fruits Basket, and Ranma ½. “There are a lot of snap zooms and whip pans, it’s kind of a character of its own,” Shi says. “We really push the colors in every single shot, just to really enhance the emotion and feeling of the shot, the effects too.”


Disney Channel Original Movies


Anime wasn’t the only inspiration for the film. At its core, Turning Red is a coming-of-age film. Nothing says coming of age during the 2000s like a Disney Channel movie. It’s been noted by Shi that Wendy Wu: Homecoming Warrior (a Chinese-American girl being a reincarnation of an ancient warrior), The Thirteenth Year (a teen boy who turns into a mermaid with the transformation beginning on his thirteenth birthday), and The Luck of the Irish (a teen boy who learns that he is part leprechaun) shared a similar premise with Turning Red and informed the film a considerable amount when it came to how to move forward with this alternative explanation for growing into your identity during the teenage years.


Turning Red is now available to stream on Disney+. In related news, American Born Chinese is getting its own Disney+ series.


Photos via Disney/Pixar