Before you see Incredibles 2, you’ll be treated to the latest Pixar animated short film, Bao, which is about a woman’s homemade bao (or dumpling) coming to life, giving her a new chance at motherhood.
Bao was directed by Domee Shi, the first woman to ever direct a Pixar short. And this is definitely one of Pixar’s most conceptual short films in years, especially compared to the beautifully simplistic Piper (2016) and straightforward Lou (2017).
Over the course of about eight minutes, we see a dumpling become a baby boy, growing up under his mother’s love until eventually becoming too old to stay home with her. Essentially, Bao is a Chinese retelling of “The Gingerbread Man.”
In an interview with Eater, Shi discussed what inspired her to make the short film:
“The story was loosely inspired by my own life growing up as an only child to my two Chinese parents. I found that they always treated me like this precious little dumpling, always making sure I was safe and never wandered too far. And when it was time for me to leave the nest, it was hard for them to let go. I wanted to kind of explore that in an allegorical, modern-day-fairytale way with this short.”
Shi started as an intern with Pixar in 2011 and eventually became a story artist for Inside Out. She’s also worked on The Good Dinosaur, Incredibles 2, and Toy Story 4.
Last fall, Shi pitched three other original ideas to Pixar, and one of them is being developed into a feature film. Her official role with the project has not yet been confirmed, but if her trajectory with Pixar is anything like Peter Sohn’s (who started as a short film director for the studio and went on to direct The Good Dinosaur), then she could very well be the first female director of a feature-length Pixar film since Brenda Chapman directed Brave (although she was eventually replaced by Mark Andrews).
Bao premiered a few months ago at Tribeca Film Festival, and it’s had a warm reception so far, though there is a jarring twist late in the short that might throw off some viewers. I found the short to be completely wonderful and a loving expression of a mother’s love through food and specific cultural values. It’s also refreshing to see a Pixar short hone in on the depression of empty-nesters, a topic we don’t often see in animated films.
The short film was produced by Becky Neiman-Cobb, who has worked in different capacities for many Pixar films over the years, most recently as an editorial manager for Coco. The score was done by Toby Chu (Burn Notice), and Pete Docter and John Lasseter served as executive producers. Lasseter will permanently leave Pixar and Disney at the end of the year.
Bao will officially release alongside Incredibles 2 on June 15.