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Pixar is Keeping it Real with ‘Turning Red’

Pixar’s Turning Red promises to be a fresh addition to the most relatable of genres: the coming-of-age story.

Directed by storyboard artist Domee Shi, the movie follows 13-year-old student Meilin Lee. Mei as it happens, ‘poofs’ into an enormous red panda whenever she gets too emotionally charged. Kids these days.

We’ve gotten two trailers ahead of its March 11 opening and one of the most exciting things for me is that the animated fantasy has a real-life setting: my hometown of Toronto, Canada.

Turning Red isn’t the first Pixar story set in the city—that was 2018’s fantastic short Bao, also directed by Shi, who is Chinese-Canadian. But it is the studio’s first feature set in the city, and the first for any Disney outfit.

Toronto regularly stands in for other cities in the movies, so this is really great to see. (Still waiting on Disneyland North, though.)

As a born-and-raised local, I thought it would be fun to dissect the references in the trailers for an international audience. Pixar’s commitment to creating authentic representations of real places and cultures is definitely on full display.

Everyday Sights

While the shots we’ve seen so far of the Toronto skyline appear to be more on the stylized side—the major exceptions being the CN Tower and Rogers Centre—a lot of smaller details of city life are accurately depicted. The design of the streetcars (trailer #2, 0:10), Ontario licence plates (#1, 0:26) and sidewalk trash receptacles (#2, 0:31) is spot on.


Toronto is one of the most culturally diverse cities in the world, and proud of it. Pixar’s version is no different. Varied backgrounds are represented in the makeup of Mei’s BFFs (#2, 0:01), other classmates, her teachers, school security guard (#1, 0:24), and neighbours. Expect Toronto’s historic Chinatown neighbourhood to be on full display.


Lester B. Pearson Middle School (#1, 0:01) is not an actual place, but it does share a namesake with countless other Canadian schools and other institutions. Pearson was Canada’s 14th prime minister (1963-68) and a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, among other achievements.

The Timbits Box

Tim Hortons is a Canadian fast food icon, famous for its coffee, donuts, and donut holes—Timbits (also, currently, TimBiebs). So it’s fun to see the brand represented on screen (#2, 0:49). Perhaps we’ll get special edition red velvet Timbits closet to opening day. Mmmmm.

Thinking about other global cities, where would you like to see Disney/Pixar set a story next? Let us know in the comments below!

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