Food is much more than just something we eat to get some energy. Many people consider food to be a love language, and for others, it is a haven from their troubles. Bao (2018) is one such short film that revolves around food, Asian culture and also a sacred bond between a mother and child.
Having said that Bao is an 8-minute long animated short film, from Pixar and directed by Domee Shi, a Chinese-Canadian storyboard artist. The film puts a compassionate spin on typical coming-of-age tales and is also a sequel to the film ‘The Incredibles 2.’ The film is also Pixar’s first female-directed short film. Shi describes it as a ‘Chinese version,’ which is a real delight for the audience.
So, the short film is about a Chinese mother dealing with empty nest syndrome, a feeling of loneliness that occurs when children leave home. However, she receives an unexpected second chance at motherhood when she notices one of her baozi (dumplings) comes to life This happens when her husband is at work.
She raises the dumpling as if it were her own child, watching it grow into a dumpling adult. She loves to spend her unconditional love and overprotection on her child to protect him or her from any perceived danger.
Despite the delicate softness of his head, he wants to play with other children and be like the other boys. However, when the baozi matures, he emotionally removes himself from his mother and leaves the house to begin a new life with his new girlfriend. The Chinese mother is sad as she recalls all of her memories and attachment to her son.
Unable to bear the separation, the mother fights back and eventually eats him as he tries to leave her. She sinks into a severe state of depression. People may find this scene bizarre. However, the film comes to a satisfying ending that you must see.
In the film, the dumpling was a metaphor for a mother who loves her child a little too much. In an interview, Shi said, “My mother would often hold me close and say, ‘Aw, I wish I could put you back in my stomach so I could know exactly where you were at all times.”
Now, coming to the beauty of the film, one can see that each part of the film has its own significance. Each element had a story to tell and an emotion to feel. And love is expressed in Bao through the actions of the characters, which are mostly centred around food in a very Asian manner. Since gestures make up the majority of the characters’ interactions, their physical barriers become more obvious when the teenage dumpling becomes grumpy and refuses his mother’s attempts to feed him.
Shi made sure the production crew was well-versed in the bao-making process since dumpling was one of the main characters in Bao. She took the crew to many Chinese restaurants in San Francisco’s Chinatown, and she even had her mother give dumpling-making classes. This shows how much the director wanted to make the film as realistic as possible. For the same reason, Bao won the Academy Award for Best Short Film (Animated) in 2019.
I must say that it is an emotional tale about a mother who misses her son and teaches us the value of not leaving our parents alone. Though I was sad for a moment, I thoroughly enjoyed watching this masterpiece by Shi and the team and I am sure you too will love it.