Whether in short or feature form, Pixar is known among its fans as the studio that can push audience’s emotional buttons easily. Just mentioning scenes like the relationship montage in “Up,” the moment when the little boy in “Coco” sings “Remember Me” to his great grandmother or the “Toy Story 3” ending when Andy leaves behind his childhood playthings, and some people’s eyes may well up with tears. Okay, my eyes well up with tears, and I know I’m not alone in this.
Their shorts are no less clever or beautifully designed as their features. Some, like their latest release, “Bao,” can pack an emotional punch that lands just as well as anything in their movies.
The short, now playing in front of “The Incredibles 2,” begins pretty innocuously. An empty nester mom makes dumplings for her and her husband before he hurries off to work. Left alone, she eats slowly, before a baby cry erupts. One of her lovingly made dumplings has become anthropomorphized, making baby sounds and sprouting tiny arms and legs. She tenderly cares for the dumpling like a child.
Eventually, he grows old enough to rebel and threatens to leave the house. There’s a dramatic twist before the audience learns what this strange little short is really about.
The mother’s love is tender and the attention to food is so detailed, it’s almost impossible to talk about one without the other. These are the familial and cultural bonds that strengthen us. The mom in “Bao” does her best to feed, clean and care for her little dumpling.
Dispersed throughout the mother’s story are loving close-ups of food or scenes involving food, like a trip to the bakery or market. The short opens with how she makes her homemade dumplings, flatting the skins and filling them with meat before steaming them on a bed of lettuce.
During their first trip to the market, mom shows her baby dumpling produce and carefully selects what she wants to buy. At the bakery, her little dumpling walks along the counter pointing at the sweet buns he’d like to eat, and later, we see mother and dumpling sharing a snack on the bus ride home.
Director Domee Shi – who is also the first woman to receive a solo director credit on a Pixar film – not only made a memorable short with an effective story and hunger-inducing visuals, she made it a tribute to her Chinese Canadian roots.
However rebellious he becomes in the story, the dumpling’s home is wherever his mom and her cooking are. Without a spoken word throughout the film, “Bao” mixes a mother’s love, the love of food and the immigrant experience all in one adorable short.