The part of Russell, the young scout who gloms onto the grumpy old man Carl just as the two take off on a crazy adventure, is read by Jordan Nagai, a Japanese American young man who was 7 when the movie was made. How cool is that?
But wait, there’s more: The Russell character itself was modeled on an Asian American animator at Pixar, Peter Sohn.
Here’s an excerpt of an interview from “In Contention” where the film’s director, Pete Docter, talks about the character:
There hasnâ€™t been a lot of discussion in the media about the fact that Russell is an Asian-American, which is probably for the best. I know the character was based somewhat on Pixarâ€™s Peter Sohn, but considering Disney has clearly pointed out that Tiana from â€œThe Princess and the Frogâ€ is the studioâ€™s first African-American princess, Iâ€™m curious why the topic hasnâ€™t come up.
â€œThatâ€™s interesting. Obviously Anglo characters have dominated most of media for a long time so it seemed to me, obviously thereâ€™s more diversity of people out there. Pete Sohn is such an entertaining character that we thought, letâ€™s just try to grab him and figure out what he was like as a kid, so thatâ€™s kind of where that came from and just trying to be specific and different than things weâ€™d done in the past. We talked early on about making some story point about that but I think by not dealing with it itâ€™s more color blind or accepting or whatever, you just cast that character and move forward.â€
I agree with Docter in a way, that not making a big deal about Russell’s ethnicity was the right thing to do.
But I kind of wish there were some indication in the movie — his last name, for instance, is never mentioned or shown (even in the credit, he’s just “Russell”), or they could have had some passing reference to his cultural identity, like in anime, where the Japanese elements are simply there and taken for granted.
Oh well, that’s me quibbling. At least the character didn’t speak with an accent! I think it’s cool that Russell is AAPI, and this makes me want to see the movie that much more.
Here’s a Channel APA video of an interview with young Jordan Nagai: