The latest animated short film from Disney Pixar, Bao, will take its first bow on April 21st as part of the Tribeca Film Festival. Attendees have five opportunities to see it between now and April 29th and for the rest of the world, it will be attached to Pixar’s Incredibles 2 when it hits theaters June 15th. On a recent visit to Pixar Animation Studios, I was among the first to see the finished short.
Bao tells the story of a lonely mother whose only son has moved out, leaving her with lots of unfilled free time. While making dumplings one day, one of them comes to life and becomes her new purpose in life. She dotes upon her little dumpling, giving him everything he needs as he tries to grow up too fast.
It’s often the case that adults will experience a Pixar short on a different level than kids. The Academy Award Winning Piper is a perfect example where kids delighted in the cute antics of the young water bird while adults understood the mother bird’s need for her daughter to become independent. Bao is no exception, but in this case there may be aspects that are above a child’s ability to comprehend. I didn’t think the ending was that hard to figure out, but I overheard at least one adult asking someone else to explain it to them. It’s a short that makes you think, but also has a great lesson to teach parents and kids alike. And being attached to a sequel of a film that came out fourteen years ago, the generation that grew up with The Incredibles is at the perfect age for this short.
The story is told without any dialogue, a very fitting format for this multicultural short. The mom depicted is a Chinese Canadian woman whose son fully assimilated into Western culture while she has maintained her Chinese traditions. There are many subtle details to be found in every shot, similar to the way Sanjay’s Super Team would be very impactful to anyone who immigrated from India.The stylized animaton also draws inspiration from Japanese Anime.
Like Ratatouille and the Walt Disney Animation Studios short film, Feast, Bao is a film that is guaranteed to leave audiences hungry. If you’re planning an evening out with dinner and a movie, I recommend pairing Incredibles 2 with your favorite Chinese restaurant as you’re going to be craving dumplings and a host of other Chinese dishes that the mom in this short cooks for her little dumpling boy. Bao is the type of film that leaves you suddenly starving, even if you just ate.
I’ve had more than a week to digest my thoughts about Bao, pun intended. It brought me to tears, but I didn’t fall in love with it like I normally do with shorts from the hopping lamp. It has a kawaii visual esthetic juxtaposed against one of the most depressing topics for an animated short. And while the short is ultimately uplifting, I predict kids will be asking a lot of questions well into the beginning of the main feature. Like an appetizer, an animated short is meant to whet your appetite. For many kids, Bao might unintentionally upset their tummy before the main course.
I give Bao 2.5 out of 5 teenage dumpling chin hairs.