This Friday before you enjoy the return of the Incredibles in Incredibles 2, you will get the pleasure of viewing the heartwarming Pixar short, Bao.
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.
Domee Shi is the first woman to direct a Pixar short in the company’s 32-year history. Shi started as a story intern in 2011 and then worked her way up to a full-time position as a story artist on Inside Out where she worked for about two and a half years. After that she moved on to The Good Dinosaur, then Toy Story 4 and she even did a small stint on Incredibles 2 (she boarded the scenes of Edna and Jack Jack, look for her credit).
Along with Shi, we spoke to Producer Becky Neiman-Cobb, a Pixar alum with credits on many films including Ratatouille, WALL•E, Up and Inside Out.
The film is very emotional, so we wondered what the inspiration was behind the idea? Domee explained that she had come up with the idea over four years ago, “I think it was in my office late one night and I was really hungry, she laughed. “I really wanted to do a modern take on a classic fairytale like The Little Gingerbread Man but with a Chinese dumpling and I just started doodling this image of this mom nuzzling her little baby boy dumpling to death. I was also drawing a lot of inspiration from my own life growing up.
I’m an only child, and ever since I was little I feel like my mom and my dad have always treated me like a precious little dumpling, always making sure that I’m always like safe and never wandered away too far. I wanted to explore that relationship between this parent and this child and this mom character learning to let go of her little dumpling.”
In Baio we get the Mom’s point of view rather than the dumpling (the child), so we wondered why Domee chose to that point-of-view over the other. She explained, “When I’m coming up with stories or when I’m developing any kind of art, I wanna learn something new as well. So if it was just from the dumplings point-of-view, I already know what is, ’cause that’s me. I wanted to know what it was like for my mom learning to let go of me.”
Since the short is based on a Mom, and Domee’s Mom Ningsha Zhong was in the room with us, we asked about her role in the film. She is listed in the credits as a creative consultant and even gave dumpling-making classes. Domee explained how important it was to get all of the little details right. The animators and effects artists would study the way her mom made the dumplings and how she kneads the dough so they could get them as accurate as possible on the big screen.
Here you can download and print her recipe for delicious Bao to make with your family.
Our reactions as Moms and grown women varied so much that we asked Domee if she had learned of any reactions from children seeing the short. How are they reacting to it? She said, “We showed it at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York, and this little girl — I think she was like ten years old — came up to us afterward, and she was like, oh, I loved it so much. I loved the little dumpling.
Becky added, “Also at Tribeca we had a woman come up to us and she said, you know, my boyfriend he never cries. He’s like not very emotional, but he sobbed at your short. We just need to make sure you guys know this. And that made us cry. This is a very unique and culturally specific story, but the themes are so universal.”
Pixar’s really well known for their rules of storytelling and Domee followed them to a tee. Throughout the film, we follow one protagonist. She said that she thinks that it’s really important to kinda just pick your main character and then like follow them emotionally throughout the whole story. To follow that one character through all of the emotional ups and downs throughout the entire film.
Becky explained that even during the composing of the short, they would direct them to compose for the way Mom was feeling, “Like, Mom feels terrible right now, the music needs to reflect that, or Mom’s really happy, etc.” Domee added, “Everything has to support the characters and their emotion throughout the story. So, we couldn’t design stuff just for the sake of it looks really cool or colorful.”
The short doesn’t have any words, Domee explained just how challenging that was while making the short. ” It was challenging, but I really loved the challenge, because my background is storyboarding. I just love visual storytelling so much and so, it was a conscious decision for us early on like take out the dialogue completely from the whole short so that the story could be understood, like more universally. Anybody from like any country and any age could understand what was happening. I think animation is such a cool visual medium, too, that I thought it’d be a cool challenge for the team to just push themselves to just like tell the story and emotions through the acting and through the set dressing, through the colors.”
Becky added, “there are a lotta little details in the sets. Like, in the kitchen there’s tinfoil covering the burners, which, you know, in that subtle way you’re seeing Mom’s practicalness. It’s also something that’s common in Asian households and lotta little things like that to help teach you who this character is and tell the story.”
Domee was clearly humbled and overwhelmed to have her short Bao not only be the first ever short directed by a woman but also be shown in front of Incredibles 2. It is a very sweet story that a lot of people can relate to whether you are the Mom, the dumpling or another character in the film (without spoiling it for you).
Domee is super proud to bring Asian culture, her culture to such a broad audience, “It’s been awesome. My original intention with this short is just to like tell this story that might be familiar with a lot of people around the world between a parent learning to let go of their child. But that’s almost like a Trojan horse to kinda introduce the world to these different little specific cultural details that I grew up with that I think are super cool, like making dumplings and what a Chinese household looks like, or just like what a typical day in this Chinese mom’s life is like shopping for groceries. Hopefully, we’re telling this universal story but with like this culturally specific paintbrush. And more people can learn more about this stuff that they don’t know much aout. So, I’m really excited about it.”
SEE BAO IN FRONT OF INCREDIBLES 2 IN THEATERS JUNE 15TH!
STAY SOCIAL WITH THE INCREDIBLES 2
Disclosure: I was provided with an all-expense trip to LA by Walt Disney Studios to attend these events. All opinions are 100% my own.