Pixar’s Turning Red began streaming on Disney+ today, so get ready for an explosion of awkward adorableness.
Directed by Domee Shi, who co-wrote the screenplay with Julia Cho, this coming-of-age fantasy follows a 13-year-old named Mei (voiced by Rosalie Chiang) who is cursed to turn into a giant red panda every time she feels overly emotional. As if puberty weren’t hard enough already!
To make matters worse, her family wants her to learn to suppress her emotions—aka her “panda”—when all Mei wants to do is go see her favorite boy band, 4*Town, perform live in concert.
For Shi, the story was incredibly personal, and that’s why you can feel Turning Red‘s wonderful specificity as you watch Mei’s story unfold. There are plenty of tiny details that hint at the details of where and when Turning Red takes place.
Read on to learn more about the Turning Red location and the Turning Red time period.
WHERE DOES TURNING RED TAKE PLACE?
Pixar’s Turning Red takes place in Toronto, Canada. More specifically, Mei’s family lives in Toronto’s Chinatown.
Director and co-writer Domee Shi based the story on her own experience growing up with a Chinese-Canadian family in Toronto. The animators took care to make sure the backdrop of Mei’s story wasn’t just a generic, anywhere town by grounding it in the very real Canadian cities. Viewers might catch small details in the background—like the street furniture, the signs written in Canadian English, and milk sold in bags versus cartons—that indicate Mei and her friends are in Canada.
You may also notice that Mei’s school music room has music notes for the Canadian national anthem, as well as the fact that Ming’s car’s dashboard sports a bobblehead moose. According to the film’s press notes, that’s more than just a Canada reference—director Domee Shi’s dad who has a similar figurine on his car dashboard.
For Sandra Oh—who voices Mei’s mother, Ming, in the movie—the setting was meaningful, because Oh herself is Canadian. ““I was so excited that this was a Pixar movie set in Toronto,” she said in an interview for the film press notes. “When you come in for a session, they’ll show you what they’ve animated. The opening sequence when Mei is walking down the street—I knew exactly what corner that is. That was so exciting because you feel the personal investment in the storytelling.”
WHEN DOES TURNING RED TAKE PLACE?
Did you notice the Turning Red characters all have flip phones? Or that the mean boy at school advertises his party with a flier, rather than a Facebook invite? That’s because Turning Red takes place in the year 2002, at the height of boyband fever for groups like NSYNC and O-Town.
Other details that animators used to highlight the early 2000s time period include wall-mounted telephones, big computer desktops, CD players, handheld video games at Mei’s school, and VHS tapes in the Lee household. In other words, this movie is the perfect nostalgia-bait for millenials.