Sandra Oh, Maitreyi Ramakrishnan, Domee Shi gush about the city they love

Historically, Toronto has been the place that TV and movies transform into other destinations, but Canadian Domee Shi is finally celebrating the city itself in Turning Red starring Sandra Oh, Rosalie Chiang and Maitreyi Ramakrishnan (streaming on Disney+ March 11).

“You don’t really see Toronto in movies,” Shi told Yahoo Canada.

“I grew up in Toronto, and I really wanted to get the chance to depict it on the big screen in all of its ways, especially in its diversity, which was a really cool opportunity for the crew to try to do, populate all the background characters, Mei’s classmates, her friends and just make it really feel and reflect the population of Toronto.”

Turning Red follows Meilin Lee, or Mei, (voice by Rosalie Chiang), a 13-year-old from Toronto in 2002, who is navigating her transition from childhood to her teens and her evolving relationship with her mother Ming (voice by Sandra Oh), who is quite protective of her daughter.

“Being 13 means I’m officially a grown up, at least according to the Toronto Transit Commission,” Mei says as she holds up her adult TTC pass on the streetcar.

Mei discovers that whenever she gets too excited, she “poofs” into a giant red panda, which has a mystical connection to her ancestors. Mei has to try to compress her red panda until the next red moon, when the panda can be sealed. What brings Mei comfort and calm are her friends Priya (Ramakrishnan), Miriam (Ava Morse) and Abby (Hyein Park).

Canadian actor Oh also revealed she was “thrilled and excited” to be part of a movie set in the city.

“You see the Easter Eggs that you feel only as a Canadian, you can tell,” she told Yahoo Canada.

“Having lived in Toronto, it was so exciting when I saw the very first opening sequence of Mei walking in Chinatown and I used to live just north of Kensington Market. I know exactly that corner, that is Dundas and Spadina. It fills you with excitement and pride, it’s always thrilling to have that represented.”Sandra Oh

The second the trailer for Turning Red was released, Canadians across the country, but particularly those in Toronto, became incredibly excited about the city being featured in a Pixar movie of this scale. There are lots of touchstones for Canadians in the movie, including Canadian flags, the CN Tower, Toronto’s public transit system, blue jays, the Sky Dome (now called the Rogers Centre), the city’s Chinatown neighbourhood, loonies and toonies, and much more.

“It’s amazing to be able to say this is a Pixar film set in Toronto, that’s absolutely awesome,” Ramakrishnan told Yahoo Canada. “When you don’t see that, it makes you just feel like you’re not worthy of the setting of the story,…your experiences aren’t necessarily big feature film worthy, which sucks.”

“It’s always like New York, or [Los Angeles] being the cool cities, and it’s like, Toronto, we’re cool too. Because we are cool, we’re really cool and Turning Red shows that… It’s feeling seen, [it’s] about where I grew up, my favourite city in the whole world. I love Toronto, you’ll never catch me saying otherwise.”Maitreyi Ramakrishnan

When the Never Have I Ever star isn’t in her home city, one of the things she misses most is shawarma.

“Let’s be honest, I can FaceTime [my friends], do I want to FaceTime shawarma? No way, that doesn’t make sense,” Ramakrishnan said.

“The food, legitimately, I think Toronto has such great diversity in food, and I love food. But I do miss my friends a lot and my dog, I have been bothering my dog so much since I’ve been back.”

While Rosalie Chiang, who plays Mei, isn’t from Toronto, she worked in collaboration with Domee Shi to really understand this character, who was created with so many parallels to the director and co-writer’s own life.

“I actually worked very, very closely with her, I’ve known her for four years, that’s a quarter of my life,” Chiang said. “This is her kind…story, her childhood and Domee has given me so much insight and background of each scene and who Mei is, who Domee was when she was 13.”

“I’m very honoured that she chose me to portray her. At this point, she’s like my big sister.”

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