‘It just felt good to be seen’: ‘Turning Red’ boy band 4*Town on Asian representation in Pixar’s new movie

4*town
  • The “Turning Red” voice actors behind Disney Pixar’s first-ever boy band 4*Town spoke with NextShark about the animated film’s Asian representation and universal themes.
  • “To see this type of representation on screen that I haven’t seen that much growing up… it really made me feel seen and heard,” Vietnamese American singer Topher Ngo (who voices Aaron T. in the movie) said.
  • When asked about the takeaway message of the film, Josh Levi (voice actor of Aaron Z.) replied, “[Be] kinder to everyone and also kinder to yourself as you're navigating. I don’t know if that expires, trying to navigate and figure that out as you grow up even through middle school, as an adult, in your career, in your future and your family, so yeah, just grace with yourself, too.”
  • The voice cast behind 4*Town also features Jordan Fisher (Robaire), Billie Eilish’s brother Finneas O’Connell (Jesse), who also helped write the band’s three songs, and Filipino American actor and singer Grayson Villanueva (Tae Young).

Disney Pixar’s first-ever boy band 4*Town spoke with NextShark about Asian representation and the universal themes they took away from Domee Shi’s “Turning Red.”

Pixar’s latest animated feature, which follows the story of a Chinese Canadian teen who hits a particularly awkward stage of puberty when she turns into a giant red panda, hits close to home for the fictional boy band’s voice actors.

Vietnamese American singer Topher Ngo, a rising talent that often shares song covers on YouTube, voices the fast-talking comedian of the group, Aaron T.

“To see this type of representation on screen that I haven’t seen that much growing up…  it really made me feel seen and heard. And that I can be that for someone also growing up now wanting to see Asian representation,” Ngo said. “The story is so heartwarming because it’s a mother-daughter relationship, and it’s painfully accurate with the awkwardness of coming-of-age that I see a lot of my own upbringing in Mei and in her relationship with her mother.”

“I felt the same way watching it on screen for the first time. I’m like, ‘Oh, man, that looks like my house where I grew up,’” Filipino American actor and singer Grayson Villanueva shared. “There’s something about it that you can just relate to, and it just felt good to be seen.” 

Villaneueva lends his voice to the youngest member of the group, Tae Young, a nod to K-pop boy bands and a lover of animals who dedicates his life to wildlife rehabilitation in between tours. Villanueva also appeared in an episode of “Modern Family” in 2017 and in the 2019 reality show “The Christmas Caroler Challenge.”

4*Town also features musician, singer and actor Jordan Fisher, who previously appeared in the 2020 Netflix film “To All the Boys: P.S. I Still Love You” and the 2021 musical drama “Tick, Tick…Boom!” Fisher plays the talented leader of the band, Robaire, who is bound for a successful solo career, according to 4*Town’s official website

“There’s nothing more powerful than being seen and heard and feeling like you have something you can reach out and go, ‘Oh, that’s close to home,’” Fisher expressed in relation to the Asian representation in “Turning Red.” 

He also encouraged viewers of the animated film to be “kinder to everyone.” 

“It’s important to know that everyone’s fighting their own beasts. You never know what people are going through,” he said.

Josh Levi, who became a finalist on Season 3 of “The X Factor,” voices Aaron Z. His fictional character is known as the stoic, shy member of the boy band. Aaron Z. is an athlete, the strongest dancer and the choreographer of the group.

When asked about his takeaway from the film, Levi said, “[Be] kinder to everyone and also kinder to yourself as you’re navigating. I think that may be one of my favorite themes. I don’t know if that expires, trying to navigate and figure that out as you grow up even through middle school, as an adult, in your career, in your future and your family, so yeah, just grace with yourself, too.”

Topher also believes that “even though [Turning Red] is grounded in Asian representation and themes, the story is super universal.” He further noted that the film highlighted for him the importance of “respecting where you come from and celebrating your own individuality and expressiveness.” 

Finneas O’Connell, who created the band’s three official songs along with his sister Billie Eilish, also lends his voice to the oldest member of 4*Town, Jesse. The fictional pop star pursued a ceramics degree in art school and spends a lot of time on the potter’s wheel or with his two kids when he is not on tour. 

The fictional boy band is inspired by groups like the Backstreet Boys and *NSYNC — whose name partly inspired 4*Town’s name — and two of director Domee Shi’s favorite K-pop boy bands Big Bang and 2PM. Billie Eilish and Finneas wrote and produced 4*Town’s early 2000s-inspired hit song “Nobody Like U,” love ballad “1 True Love” and the confidence booster “U Know What’s Up.” 

Disney Pixar’s “Turning Red” premieres today on Disney Plus.  

 

All Images via Disney Pixar

 

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