Pixar’s Turning Red, above all, is an ode to girlhood. Director Domee Shi’s animated coming-of-age film embeds this in the narrative itself, in the complex bonds between women of different age groups, and in the touching portrayal of female strength and perseverance. As our 13-year-old Chinese Canadian heroine, Meilin “Mei” Lee, grapples with growing pains that transform her into a fluffy, giant red panda, she constantly has women by her side: her anxious mother Ming, her girl gang, and her many out-of-town (and mostly well-meaning) relatives.
Alongside the powerful, nuanced women within the film is Jin Lee, Mei’s father. A supporting character, Jin is quiet yet affirming even at first glance. He’s also the apple of the internet’s eye, where he’s still being championed online as a standout Pixar dad and Turning Red fan favorite (no disrespect, Robaire).
The internet has long declared its adoration for Jin since the release of Turning Red in March 2022, creating a growing fandom for someone who isn’t a main character by all accounts. Across TikTok, YouTube, and Twitter, fans still praise and celebrate Jin for the father, husband, and 4*Town fan he is.
Cooking is a major part of Jin’s online fandom. When we are first introduced to Jin, he is concocting a mouth-watering dinner for his family. His glasses are fogged up, giving us a split-second impression of a fearful figure. But this image quickly disappears: he wipes his glasses, snaps out of his dedicated cooking, and softly smiles as his family watches a Chinese soap opera.
First impressions secured, the cooking scene in itself caused a major fan frenzy from the get-go, with dozens of TikTok and YouTube edits. One TikTok, which garnered over 2.5 million views, sees chef @albert_cancook replicating Jin’s meal, foggy glasses included. But the character’s culinary skills are just the beginning of the Jin-centric fandom.
Videos obsess over Jin’s bewildered and fearful expressions, his secret dumpling-eating, and his gentle, fatherly advice. Fan edits (which there are plenty of) feature comments like “I’m in love with this goofy little man” and “he’s my favorite character ngl”. Countless tweets praise his parenting skills and his emotionally sensitive presence. A credits scene, seen on Turning Red‘s Blu-Ray and digital release in May, featured Jin dancing to 4*Town in their basement, also quickly becoming a TikTok craze.
On a Turning Red fandom page, Jin’s character profile sees several people pronouncing him “best Pixar dad.” The Pixar dad has always had a moment. Once upon a time, it was Mr. Incredible being weirdly applauded even though he keeps his family from his secret job; the overprotective Marlin garnering praise for eventually letting his son grow in Finding Nemo; or the comforting father in Inside Out gaining attention.
But Jin’s abilities as a father to a daughter — particularly one undergoing massive transformation — and his overarching softness have placed him in high stead.
In ‘Turning Red,’ fandom is freedom
So, why has the internet fallen so hard for Jin?
Orion Lee, who voices Jin in the film, tells Mashable it comes down to the character’s devotion to his family.
“He’s a kind and supporting father and husband. All of his foibles and expressions are very endearing and, really, he just wants his wife and child to be happy — even though he doesn’t necessarily know exactly how to do that sometimes,” he tells me.
Credit: Pixar Animation Studios
Lee explains that Jin’s character is based on the principle of acceptance and embracing all sides of being a human. His “philosophical, accepting” nature complements his wife’s contrary characteristics. Ming (voiced by Sandra Oh) expresses love, Lee says, through “discipline, confidence, rules, certainty.” Through this understanding, Lee says he was able to form a “deeper connection to [Jin’s] humanity,” and playing him quickly became a dream come true for the actor.
“For me, there’s a history of a guy who was shy when he was younger. He enjoyed cooking and found that was the way he expressed his artistic self.”
“For me, there’s a history of a guy who was shy when he was younger. He enjoyed cooking and found that was the way he expressed his artistic self. When he found Ming, he found his opposite, it would appear, but really he found his soulmate. Both Ming and Jin have big hearts and care a lot,” he tells me.
Credit: Pixar Animation Studios.
As both a husband and father, Jin indeed offers unparalleled support, at a time when both the women in his life grapple with a wave of changes. At the Lee family’s temple, he holds his daughter Mei’s (voiced by Rosalie Chiang) furry paw as she learns about the panda within her; he holds Ming’s hand every time her eyebrows knit together (which is often). He demonstrates faith in Mei: “Maybe we should trust her,” he tells Ming as Mei begs to see her beloved boyband 4*Town perform. Jin also stands by his wife after Mei runs away from the ritual on the night of the Red Moon.
Most of these moments are subtle, glimpses into his fatherhood and personhood, but prove to be more powerful than spelling it out with a monologue. Jin’s heart, which undeniably belongs to Ming and Mei in its entirety, stands apart in a film where there was just so much to love.
Turning Red, if I had to summarize in a sentence, is a movie that should be watched by all. (Disclaimer: I’ve watched it five times.) The film is made not only for teenage girls grappling with the wonders and trials of emerging adulthood, but for families, new parents, friends, music-lovers, and anyone yearning for the distinctive aesthetic of the 2000s. For the most part, it’s been largely agreed by critics and audiences that the Pixar film deftly, colorfully, and lovingly handled universal themes, playing in a bright playground of nostalgia and fandom, and leaning on its greatest asset: flawed, earnest, and truly relatable characters.
Jin may be one of Turning Red‘s supporting characters, but he is a testament to the universality and thoughtfulness of the film. He shines brightest, I believe, when he speaks to Mei on the night of the ritual. In just a few moments, we see Jin praising his wife’s strength and explaining to his daughter, in his soft-spoken manner, that people are complicated.
“People have all kinds of sides to them, Mei. And some sides are messy. The point isn’t to push the bad stuff away — it’s to make room for it. Live with it.”
With this, he bestows the power of acceptance onto his daughter, paving the way to Ming doing the same for both herself and her mother. Jin’s approach to parenthood and personhood (in addition to cooking!) is one for observation, and maybe even replication. Social media certainly thinks so.