The Pixar Short of 2018: ‘Bao’
The First Female Director for Pixar Shorts
If you went to go see the long-awaited (14 years!) Incredibles 2, then surely you saw the animated short screened just before called Bao that was directed by Chinese female director Domee Shi. Pixar’s shorts are infamous for their storytelling and animation that captivates the audiences in just a span of minutes. The shorts never delude from the experience of the feature, but rather enhance the beauty and magic of Pixar animations. Pixar’s new short Bao, the first to be directed by a female director, focuses on an elderly Chinese woman who suffers from the “empty nest syndrome,” and gets to have another chance at motherhood when a dumpling baby boy comes to life to refill the joy and meaning to this lonely mother’s life.
Domee Shi confides that her inspiration for Bao draws from her personal life, and she tells NPR in an interview that since she was a child “my Chinese mom and dad have always treated me like their precious little dumpling.” Without giving anything away, Bao is emotionally moving— especially to parents and older kids. Younger kids will certainly be entertained, but may not fully understand the darker and sadder themes of the short. Domee Shi’s Bao is filled with love for her culture, and she powerfully depicts the dynamics of Chinese culture and family through Bao.
The power of these animated shorts is that they can equally make you feel all the emotions, the highs and lows, that of a feature length movie. They follow the three-act structure so fluidly and beautifully that the audience momentarily forgets what feature movie they came to see by being so immersed in the short. It is not only the compelling narrative of the shorts, but also the animation— the art. When you watch Bao, you can see how far animation has advanced since the old days of 2D animation that was drawn by hand.
“Food is tricky on the computer because food is organic and squishy.” Domee Shi states on a phone interview with Los Angeles Times (warning: linked article may contain spoilers for the short). She goes on and says, “Computers are good at rendering hard, symmetrical objects, but not so much [things] like dough.” In order to get the phenomenal detail in Bao when crafting the little dumpling, Domee Shi brought in her mother to teach her animators to make dumplings in order for them to understand the craft and capture the detail in a real life hands-on experience.
Furthermore, Bao is also able to captivate the audience of the mother and her precious dumpling with no dialogue. What is so great about Pixar animated shorts is their tendency to remove dialogue and drive the animated short through sound and music. Domee Shi’s Bao continues the tradition of Pixar animated shorts with no dialogue. Pixar’s nearly consistent choice to have their shorts driven by sound and music is due to its effectiveness in creating the mood and tone, and progressing the story in roughly five to six minutes.
For instance, Geri’s Game (1997), a favored classic, is devoid of dialogue, and yet we are completely hooked on this intense chess game by this old man and his alter ego. Upbeat jazz music plays in the background as you hear the slamming of the chess pieces, the snickers and chortles of the old man, and his exaggerated gasps as he falls over the table pretending to have a heart attack. By the end of this short, you’re laughing at the old man’s antics as he shoves his dentures back into his mouth as the scene ends with his pearly white teeth smiling victoriously. In just five minutes, Geri’s Game, with no dialogue and only one character, effectively invests the audience in this strange, yet amusing story of an old man playing chess with himself. The success of the Geri’s Game is shown when Toy Story 2 is released and Geri returns as the toy cleaner in the movie.
From the first Pixar short Luxor Jr. (1986) to Bao (2018), Domee Shi becomes the first female director to direct an animated short through Bao, and she continues the success of Pixar’s tradition of powerful and emotional shorts.