As you may know, Pixar regularly attaches short films to its features. This year, the animation studio will be releasing Bao alongside Incredibles 2. A few weeks ago, I was invited to Pixar’s campus in Emeryville, California – while I was there, I had the opportunity to learn about the studio’s next feature film. I also had a chance to view the Bao short, an experience that left me an emotional mess. Read my spoiler-free review after the break!
The synopsis for Bao that has been provided by Disney/Pixar is below:
In “Bao,” an aging Chinese mom suffering from empty nest syndrome gets another chance at motherhood when one of her dumplings springs to life as a lively, giggly dumpling boy. Mom excitedly welcomes this new bundle of joy into her life, but Dumpling starts growing up fast, and Mom must come to the bittersweet revelation that nothing stays cute and small forever. This short film from Pixar Animation Studios and director Domee Shi explores the ups and downs of the parent-child relationship through the colorful, rich, and tasty lens of the Chinese immigrant community in Canada.
Bao begins with a dumpling that springs to life. At first, this appears to be disturbing. I could not help but fear for a piece of food springing to life the next time I try to take a bite. That feeling falls away quickly, though, as you are sucked in to the story of this parent-child relationship between the woman and the dumpling. There are a few ways that director Domee Shi and her team at Pixar bring this short to life beautifully:
- The animation and music are eccentric and gorgeous. It feels like you are watching a Chinese folk tale, as the design of the characters and the musical style are, no doubt, influenced by projects usually seen coming out of Asia. The studio often likes to experiment in its shorts, committing to different storytelling devices and new animation techniques. It is on full display here. The animation and music work together to make this short impactful, while overwhelming your senses with beauty.
- The story is profoundly moving. Take a look at that synopsis and you may get misty-eyed just from reading it. It is a bittersweet story that captures so much of the challenges of parenting, as well as growing up.
- The short is just long enough to allow for complex characterization. Bao is Pixar’s longest short, running approximately eight minutes. Short films are limited by time, which frequently leads to stories that are black-and-white. There is a whole lot of gray area in this short, though, as you find yourself pulled between the perspectives of both Dumpling and his “mother.” I do not think the complexity would be accomplished so well without this longer running time.
The short will evoke many feelings in the span of a short period of time – awe, hope, joy, sadness. After the short was finished, I felt like I had just been on an emotional roller coaster. I can’t wait to go on that ride again.
Bao is quite the special project from Pixar. It is the first short film at the studio to be directed by a woman. Director Domee Shi is an immigrant who was born in China and moved with her family to Canada. The short is heavily inspired by Shi’s life and her relationship with her mother. I am an immigrant and I can hardly put into words what seeing stories like this on the big screen feels like. There are diverse characters here that billions of people will be able to identify with – importantly, as with many Pixar projects, you do not have to relate to every aspect of the film to feel connected to it. Similar to Pixar’s best films, there are multiple layers here. None of these themes hit harder than the idea that parenting is hard.
Bao arrives in theaters with Incredibles 2 on June 15th! Watch a teaser of the short below and get a taste of that feeling of “awe”: