Like many from Toronto, I have been excited by the recent growth of the city’s notoriety. Often overshadowed by nearby New York and even the lively Montreal, I’ve grown up to see the city take new prominence of the world stage.
From the rise of music megastars like Drake and The Weekend, and rising stars like Simu Liu, Toronto is definitely having its time in the spotlight. The release of Red, a Toronto based story of a Chinese-Canadian teenager who turns into a red panda, is more proof Toronto has arrived. I mean the continent of Africa has never been pictured in a Pixar movie, Toronto already has one. And a short or two.
The movie in all was a good watch. It was a fun ride to see the main protagonist Mei-Lee, hop around streetcars, with backdrops of world famous places like the CN Tower & Chinatown, along with local nods like the Daisy Marts, that rule the convenience store industry. And of all the Toronto caricatures, Red does a good job showing all the groups of people you are going to meet in the city. From different points and places, the movie illustrated the diversity of people well.
In fact the children’s movie provides a very real take on Toronto’s multiculturalism by showing Toronto for what it is to many immigrants. The community they live in and the CN Tower.
Its difficult to count the amount of times the movies backdrop actively works to highlight the CN Tower from different perspectives. And they did a wonderful job and imposing the streets of Chinatown, as they exist next to the tall tower. But beyond some stretches of Spadina, where our main character lives, with her parents, who look after a local temple, there is not much of Toronto shown.
Where is the lookout at Riverdale Park? Or the massive Toronto sign at city hall? Indian bazaar on Gerrard? Or the world renowned St. Lawrence Market? While its understandable a movie about a girl that turns into a panda doesn’t need to become a tourist expo, for all the talk of being placed in a city, the movie hardly goes explores many of the neighborhoods, even around the downtown area . And definitely does nothing to express the kaleidoscope of landmarks and cultures Toronto has.
For many in Hogtown , this is pretty normal though. Filled with so many people, languages and cultures Toronto can feel disjointed from each other. Stretched by highways, suburban housing and a smallish transit network, Toronto can feel separated from itself. You can see it with the people as well. Working with students in Toronto North, I witnessed one youth, locked in his little part of the city exclaim ‘Toronto has gay people??’ Apparently he had never been to Church St.
And its not just kids. Many communities stay in their little bubble, coming out only for a trip to Eaton Centre or the Sky Dome. (Rogers Centre). Raised in downtown Toronto, everything was at my doorstep. Intermingled were the different sides of the city. My friends & I took advantage of that to meet interesting people, learn about new places and the food (oh the food!).
The city (Greater Toronto Area) has 6.4 million people! That makes the Canadian metropolis bigger than world class cities like Johannesburg and Singapore. Yet Toronto has only four major metro lines. Singapore has eight! And smaller cities like Barcelona, Sydney & Montreal are the same . Drastically reducing the ability for Torontonians to get to know their city Toronto’s transit woes are improving.
Markedly better than many of our southern neighbors city transit, Toronto has lots of room to grow. For a city of over 140 languages, bringing everyone together becomes difficult. The largest Chinatown, after San Francisco, many communities have an insular ability, and its not rare at all to find groups of people who do not even use english in their daily life (or know it). That’s part of the city’s magic, but also something it must contend with to build a more cohesive municipal community. It gets hard with a large foreign born population
To Mei-Lee’s credit she actively is trying to get to roam the streets of the six with her friends. It was around her age, with my own group of multicultural playmates, I got outside my own bubble and got to enjoy everything Toronto had to offer! Its in the kids of immigrants, those born in the enclaves but itching to explore the city, that can network different enclaves together. Like the characters in the movie, adolescence means identity outside the home, and much of that identity is made excitedly exploring a city the size of the world.
For a sequel, it would be great of a twenty something Mei-Lee grabbing LCBO, heading to Trinity-Bellwoods, a bag of goat curry in her hands. There is no slowing down Canadas largest city as it continues to welcome new groups of people. Many looking for a home. Through movies like this we can inspire the many Torontonians to get a little air, outside their own enclaves.