Earlier this month I was one of the first audiences to watch Pixar’s new theatrical short Bao. I’ve had a lot of time to think about the film since then, and I’m still 100% certain it might be one of my favorite shorts to come from the studio.
Bao is directed by Domee Shi and she just so happens to be the first female to direct a short film at Pixar. Although that fact alone is unnerving, considering the studio has been around for 30+ years and their Brain Trust has been notoriously male dominated; it’s inspiring to see the studio finally moving forward and giving others the opportunity to tell their stories.
Domee was born in China and raised in Toronto, which heavily influenced the setting and aesthetics for Bao. Domee is only 28-years-old and landed a Job at Pixar after graduating from college in 2011. Before her directorial debut, Domee was a story artist and had worked on The Good Dinosaur and most recently Inside Out.
Bao’s initial story started over 4 years ago – while working on Inside Out Domee was feeling that itch to make something herself, a film that was ultimately weird and uniquely hers. Domee had initially intended for the short to be her weekend gig, but when Pixar had an open call for short pitches, she decided to throw her story into the mix and see what would happen.
She first pitched it to Pete Docter, the director of Inside Out, Up, and Monsters Inc., to get his feedback. He was so passionate about the story and enthusiastic about her idea that she decided to pitch it to the studio. And obviously through their support and feedback Bao was green-lit as their next theatrical short.
Bao tells the story of a Chinese mother who’s dealing with an all too familiar feeling among parents: figuring out what to do with their life after their children have grown up and moved out. The empty nest syndrome soon evaporates when the mother discovers that one of the dumpling’s she’s about to eat suddenly springs to life. She’s given another chance at parenthood as she watches her baby dumpling grow up in the world around her. As the story progresses the mother realizes that what she wished stayed precious and innocent soon matures and grows bigger and “doesn’t stay cute forever.”
Without giving anything away, here’s what I absolutely adored about the short:
- As with most of Pixar’s shorts, the entire film was done without any dialogue. There’s always so much that can be said with a glance or a simple touch that 10+ pages of dialogue can never achieve. There were so many precious and heartbreaking moments throughout the short between the mother and her baby dumpling that were conveyed beautifully through the animation, lighting, and overall character design. I don’t think I can even picture this film with even one line of dialogue.
- The character designs were unique and definitely stood out from previous Pixar films. The characters depicted in the short, from the mother to some of the other human people she interacted with, had massive heads that were un-proportioned to their bodies, sort of like living breathing caricatures. While watching I sometimes wondered how these characters were able to keep balance and walk from one room to the other without tipping over. The overall design of the baby dumpling was both scrumptious and adorable, even when it got older and started growing a little scruff around its chin.
- I loved the fact that FOOD was the star of this short. OK, baby dumpling aside, there were so many gorgeous close-ups of noodles and vegetables and delicious Chinese desserts that my mouth was watering for the duration of the short; I even had to look around to see if anyone heard my stomach grumbling. The amount of detail that went into the food was mind-blowing – there’s a scene towards the middle of the short when the mother prepares an epic feast for her and the baby dumpling and I still can’t get over the steam rising from the food as it sat on the table, waiting to be eaten.
- I loved that we were able to be immersed in a different culture, albeit only being for 8-minutes. In Sanjay’s Super Team, the short that played in front of The Good Dinosaur back in 2015, we got a unique look into Sanjay Patel’s childhood and the Hindu traditions of his family. And the same happens in Bao as we experienced an inside look at Domee’s own relationship with her mother as she depicted the Chinese customs she was familiar with growing up.
- Bao’s story was simple and effective; despite it focusing on Chinese characters and their culture, the messages and heavy themes depicted were universal. In Coco, the film relied on it’s story being told through Miguel and his Mexican culture, but the themes of death and importance of family heritage were both prominent and relatable to everyone all over the world. With Bao, the same can be said with the mother and her Chinese background but the themes of struggling to deal with an empty-nest and accepting your child will one day grow up could be understood by people from all walks of life. I’m not a parent, but I could relate to everything the mother went through based off when I first moved away from home.
Bao is also important to me because my family are immigrants. I was born in the United States but my Grandparents immigrated to the U.S. from Greece in WWII to escape the Nazi occupation. I’ve seen similar tales told in live action, but now with the help of Bao, Coco, and Sanjay’s Super Team, it’s helping those types of stories become accepted in the world of animation. I’d love to see more unique films come from the studio moving forwards and I only hope they’re giving more opportunities to talented artists like Domee Shi and Sanjay Patel so that they can tell stories about their families and life experiences.
I really can’t wait for you to see Bao in cinemas June 15th! Keep your eyes peeled for an upcoming post about the making of Bao, complete with more story and design inspiration.