Thank you to Disney for sending me to both the Pixar Studios in San Fransisco and Los Angeles to cover this event!
I have a son going to college in one year. It has pulled up all sorts of emotions I didn’t know existed within myself including this great dread that he’ll leave me and never come back, never call. I guess I’m afraid of losing him forever.
I know too many moms whose sons left and don’t call home. My husband is one of them. I don’t want to be the type of mom who is so rigid she’s unable to see where she messed up and where she can improve.
I also don’t want to look back on my son’s life, especially the years he remembers, and realize we never connected.
Maybe that’s why the short film “Bao” that shows before “Incredibles 2″ was so damn emotional for me.
The short follows the life of a sweet little dumpling with his mom who stumbles through parenthood only to find things beginning to change as Dumpling ages. It is real in its every emotion, even if things do get a little weird along the way.
The thing is, I get it. Even the weird stuff.
Parents will sometimes do anything to hold onto their adult children, even to the detriment of the relationship. It’s what happens afterwards that decides whether or not a mom and her sweet treasure will continue on in good relationship or not.
I had so many questions for “Bao” creator, Domee Shi and producer Becky Neiman after watching the short. More than anything, though, I wanted to tell them that I cried watching this creation. As a creator myself, I know it means a great deal to hear that my art moved someone.
If you just watched “Bao” and are wondering “What the hell did I just watch?” read ahead for Domee and Becky’s take on this heartwarming Pixar short film.
How did creator, Domee Shi come up with the story for “Bao”?
Domee: I was sitting in my office late one night and I was really hungry. I really wanted to do a modern take on the classic, “The Little Gingerbread Man” but with a Chinese dumpling.
I was doodling and this little image of a mom nuzzling her baby boy dumpling to death popped into my head. I had to draw it out and as I was drawing it out, the inspiration for the story began to come out. 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 dad have treated me like a precious little dumpling. They made sure I was safe, never wandered away too far, my mom is actually right over there, so I didn’t wander away too far.
I wanted to explore the relationship between a child and a mother and the mom having to learn to let go of her precious little dumpling.
Bao means two things, making the title wholly appropriate for this short film.
Becky: Bao actually means steamed bun and the other is treasure or something precious
Domee chose to make the film from the mom’s perspective so she could learn something new.
Domee: When I’m coming up with stories or developing art, I want to learn something new. I wanted to know what it was like for my mom learning to let go of me. I decided to explore the idea from the parent’s point of view.
And if it gets too autobiographical, you get too precious with the details and it makes it more difficult to cut stuff out.
Domee’s mom has a Creative Consultant credit in the film
Domee: We brought her in twice to do dumpling making classes for the crew. It was really important for us to get all of those little details right. We had to to get the animators and effects artists in there studying my mom’s technique. They needed to see how she folds the dough, how she pokes the dough, and then smells the pork filling.
Children & Grown Men are being touched by “Bao”, not just moms.
Domee: We showed it at the Tribeca film festival in New York. This little girl about 10 years old came up to us afterward and told us she loved the film. Then she turned to her mom and said, “You better not eat me when I go off to college.”
Becky: We had a woman come up to us and said ‘My boyfriend never cries and is not very emotional, but he sobbed at your short. I just felt you needed to know this.’
Bao is culturally specific, but the themes are universal.
Becky: Everyone who joined our team would say , ‘I am Dumpling’, or ‘I am the mom’, or ‘I am the girlfriend’. When we started the film, I was the dumpling then I became a mom during the filming and I related more to the mom.
All of the elements in Bao follow Mom. Lighting, effects, music, they all reflect how Mom is feeling.
Domee: We tried to get the audience to feel what Mom is feeling.
Becky: Even when we were working with our composer, that would be the direction that we would give them. ‘Mom feels terrible right now, the music needs to reflect that.’ or ‘this is a happy time and they’re really connected.’
Even the lighting direction would support that
Domee: Everything has to support the main character and their emotion throughout the story. We couldn’t design stuff for the sake of it being cool or colorful. The color of her clothes, the lighting, they all reflect the relationship between Mom & Dumpling.
Domee is Chinese and stays true to her heritage in “Bao”
Domee: It was a conscious decision for us to take out the dialogue so that the story could be understood more universally. Anybody from any country could understand what was happening. I wanted there to be a challenge of telling the story through the acting and the set dressing and the colors.
Becky: There were a lot of little details in the sets like in the kitchen there is tinfoil covering the burners. In that subtle way you’re seeing mom’s practicalness. It’s also something that’s common in Asian households. A lot of little things help teach you who this character is and help tell the story.
Domee: My original intention was to tell the story that might be familiar to a lot of people around the world. That story was the Trojan Horse to introduce the world to these specific cultural details that I grew up with like making dumplings, what a Chinese household looks like, or what a typical day in this Chinese Mom’s life looks like. Things like shopping for groceries not at a grocery store but at a market in Chinatown.
Dumpling’s girlfriend was always going to be a white girl.
The point of that part of the story was to present to mom someone the complete opposite of her. Someone who was younger and wasn’t Chinese. She was presented as almost Mom’s worst nightmare. With this mom character, we are putting her through the ringer.
She has to learn to adapt to change and this caucasian girlfriend character is like the most different thing she’s ever seen. This girl is going to come in and take her baby so Mom has to go over that hurdle and accept her in the end.
“Bao” is the first Pixar short film with a female production team. Editor, production designer, sound editor, production manager, technical manager, producer, and director were all women. Domee hopes she’s the first in a long line of women who direct and create Pixar shorts. Both “Incredibles 2” and “Bao” feature supermoms, so having “Bao” appear in front of “Incredibles 2” meant a lot to the team.
When I first screened the short in San Fransisco, we were treated to Dim Sum and a meet & greet with the creators of the film.
I didn’t want to leave, yet all I wanted to do was get home to my eldest and tell him how much he means to me.
“Bao” is my new favorite short film ever and I can’t wait to take my children to see it on Friday.