Pixar’s “Incredibles 2” made $200 million in just four days, and the family-friendly movie has also received glowing reviews from critics. However, it’s not just the Pixar film itself that has people buzzing: “Bao,” the animated short playing before “Incredibles 2,” is giving kids the giggles and making parents in the audience nod in teary-eyed, “I know that feeling” agreement.
It tells the story of a Chinese mother who is now an empty-nester since her son has grown up and flown the coop. Like many empty-nesters, the mom feels lonely, sad and without an outlet for all her motherly affection.
Luckily, a dumpling she cooked for dinner suddenly comes to life! He’s crying, cooing and needs some nurturing — and who better to care for him than this loving mama?
— Pixar (@Pixar) April 12, 2018
As the film progresses, we see how the little dumpling goes from adorable and needy to sometimes petulant and even downright disobedient. The mom struggles to care for him and finds herself occasionally losing her patience, but she stays the course and keeps on loving and protecting him, as any dedicated mama does.
But then the little dumpling starts to grow up. Suddenly, the viewers begin to understand that this is not just a story about a cute, mischievous little creature — it’s also about the universal struggle of parents everywhere who have to eventually let go of their children so they can spread their wings and leave the nest.
“Bao” was directed by Chinese-Canadian director Domee Shi. The movie is inspired by Shi’s own life as the child of immigrant parents.
In fact, the household in the film is based on Shi’s mother’s house, as well as the home of production designer Rona Liu’s mother.
“… The little tchotchkes on the TV, or the rice cooker in the background. The little details like the soy sauce bottles and the hot sauce jars and stuff on the table. Those little details that made this setting in the short feel like a real Chinese mom’s home,” Shi told the Los Angeles Times. “We wanted to capture those details as accurately as possible.
The idea for the short film had been ruminating in Shi’s mind for a while before she brought it to life.
“I was digging through my art folder at work and the earliest sketch I found was dated January 2014,” Shi told the Los Angeles Times. “It was just a bunch of different dumpling ideas, different dumpling characters.”
In addition to being an expertly told story that has parents everywhere feeling weepy, “Bao” is also the first Pixar short film directed by a woman.
Shi was one of 20 people who pitched Pixar with ideas for a short. Initially, she feared that her concept would be too dark or culturally specific (due to the many nods to Chinese culture in the film). But, as it turned out, the team at Pixar absolutely loved Shi’s pitch.
“Everyone in the world has been an overprotective parent who won’t let go of their kid or the kid who has left the nest,” Shi said, explaining the film’s universal appeal to Time magazine. “And they’re brought together by food at some point. We’re using that universal theme of food and family as a Trojan horse to introduce people to baos and Chinatown and what a Chinese home looks and feels like.”
Correction: A previous version stated that Shi was the first woman to direct a Pixar film. Shi is the first woman to direct a Pixar short film.