The magic behind Pixar’s incredible run of success can best be boiled down to their laser-focused quest for the universal. The company is obviously known for its innovative 3D animation, but at its heart, they’re a storytelling organization constantly searching for characters and subject-matter that resonates with people across cultures, languages, and beliefs.
It’s a high bar for any studio to pursue, much less achieve, particularly one that turns out blockbusters about toys, cars, dinosaurs, monsters, and talking dogs. Pixar’s short films (aka “Shorts”), which precede their feature-length movies, have covered a lot of ground over the years, but their latest effort, “Bao,” is their most human and most resonant short to-date.
“Bao” is the story of a middle-aged Chinese couple — recent immigrants to America — who are holding onto their old-world traditions while assimilating into their new-world surroundings. The focus is on the wife, a master of traditional Chinese cooking, who channels love through food. Her husband, a businessman, is away during the day, leaving her alone and sad… until she gets an idea to make a baby out of dough.
While there are obvious elements of Disney’s Pinocchio in “Bao,” this is far from a derivative tale. Though the setup is simple, Pixar’s execution elevates it, and the result is both surreal and engaging. What transpires after the baby is created is genius, and we won’t say anything more at risk of spoiling a wonderful and emotional story.
“Bao’s” concept was created by Pixar artist Domee Shi, whose own family moved to Toronto when she was just nine-years-old. Shi created this story to honor her mother, who similarly expressed affection through food. Without revealing too much, the depiction of cooking in the short is extraordinary — you’ve never seen food executed in 3D animation like this, it’s a remarkable technical achievement (though there are a couple off-putting “uncanny valley” moments).
Pixar and Shi’s “Bao” is incredibly low-key and meditative. The story unfolds slowly and at its own pace — there are no action scenes or crazy special effects. (It’s the anti-Incredibles, which makes it a really interesting lead-in.) Perhaps because the film is so relaxed and unforced is why it works so well — and it’s easy to imagine your own parents and relatives through these characters, regardless of your cultural heritage.
Simply put, “Bao” is really different, and that’s really exciting for Pixar, who’ve proven they can tell any story with any character in any setting and make it work. There’s a lot more to say about the short, and we’ll share it in future articles as The Incredibles 2 moves closer to its release date.
Are you surprised by the focus and content of Pixar’s newest Short: “Bao”? Let us know in the comments down below!
The Incredibles 2 (and “Bao”) hits theaters on June 15, 2018.