What Turning Red’s Chinese chant ritual means, and how Pixar did it
Audiences tune in to a Pixar animated film blushes could end up asking what exactly the characters are saying during the two key sequences where they start singing in Cantonese. In one scene in the animated film, the 13-year-old protagonist Mei, who begins to transform into a giant red panda whenever she gets emotional, sits down for a family ritual designed to control her inner panda. Her parents, grandmother, and other family members sing rhythmically to start this ritual. Later in the film, the singing is repeated in a different context. The words are not subtitled even in the various Chinese translations of the film.
“What they’re saying?” Mei questions Mr. Gao (voiced by James Hong) who is performing the ritual. He tells her that it doesn’t really matter – the ritual simply requires the participants to sing from their hearts. “It doesn’t matter what,” Mr. Gao says. “I like Tony Bennett. But your grandmother is from the old school.
But director Domi Shi and producer Lindsey Collins couldn’t just ask the actors to sing something random—they had to come up with their own tune for the film. The couple told Polygon that a lot of work went into getting the ritual to sound right.
“We were very inspired by the Taoist chants that the monks sang in Taoist temples,” says Shi. “First we wanted to see if there was an existing Taoist chant that we could use. But then we thought, since this family is so special, the situation is so unique – this family has a magical panda curse! “We have to come up with our own chant for him.”
Shea wanted to make sure a native speaker was involved in the development of the sing-along, so she and her team contacted Herman Wong, Hong Kong director of Asia-Pacific operations for Disney Character Voices International, Disney’s translation and dubbing division. Services. She says she doesn’t remember the exact words of the ritual herself because it was a translation of a passage that Wong helped them find.
“We knew it had to be in Cantonese because the family is Cantonese,” she says. “He helped us translate a poem, a song of protection, with lyrics about looking after this girl, guiding her on her journey. He helped us create this rhyming chant.”
“We worked with Cantonese trainer Andy. We loved him,” Shi says. “He worked very closely with each of the actors and actresses when it came time to record the singing.”
At the film’s climax (spoilers ahead!), the family repeats the chant, this time to take control of May’s mother’s panda after she injures herself while rioting against May’s teenage rebellion. In the climactic final number, the singing merges with a score by Ludwig Göransson and “Nobody Like U”, one of the songs’ siblings Billie Eilish and Finneas O’Connell wrote for blushesheartthrob of the 4*Town boy band.
“It’s funny, we had the idea in mind to combine the chant at the end with 4*Town’s music and orchestration, and we were hoping it would all fit together,” Shea says. “But it was still a shot in the dark. There were a lot of people like, “I don’t know, maybe this will work?”
“And then Ludwig was great,” says Collins. “He said, ‘OK if the 4*Town song is in that key, let’s do it…’ remix. You know he is not only a composer but also a producer of pop music. So he was able to put that song into his own system along with the 4*Town song and do an amazing remix that we’re like, “Oh my God, it works!” But I think it worked because he’s a magician. I’m not sure if it worked because were mages.”