Feelings to immigrant mothers in the short animated film Bao by Pixar

Bao Pixar

 

Maybe you'll never look at a dumpling — or at your mother — the same way again. Domee Shi's tear-jerking animated short made the audience watching Incredibles 2 cry in theaters. And hungry.

It's a common experience enough for many teenagers: growing up, looking back, and embarrassed by the hellish memories they made their parents go through. Self-direction, stubbornness, thoughtless remarks; all the embarrassing little reminders of the debt they owe to those who, despite their shortcomings, have raised them, and the distance they may have contributed to.

That guilt-ridden appetizer is all the more emotional when one or both parents are immigrants who make more sacrifices than you can have to do just to let you fester and glance through adolescence in America. It's the cultural division of its dark side and its irony. And the role of food in bridging the gap that is at the heart of Bao, Disney's adorable animated short accompanying Incredibles 2- Pixar in theaters.

Written and directed by Domee Shi, the first female director of a Pixar animated short film, Bao is part fairy tale, part of food cravings, and a wholehearted love letter to Chinese immigrant mothers. A woman leaving his homeland lonely and eating a batch of hot homemade steamed buns (deliciously) spewed out a bun when it suddenly squealed with a baby cry. Jumping around the bamboo steamer, the dumpling ("bao" in Chinese) sprouted tiny limbs and bodies. Seeing how cute it was, the mother adopted it as a child and raised it like a child.

In the way that Pixar's Coco is portrayed with traditional Mexican cultural details, Bao portrays the Chinese immigrant's experience in full authenticity. It was from the mother's hair and sunshade cap (adapting the "Chinese street ladies" the creators of this animated short often see on research trips) to the dumpling dough and the wall of dumping shop, to his mother's house decorated with china plates and Chinese calendars. Bao exuded a sense of belonging, which wa the reason why the film's heart-wrenching climax has such a shattering effect.

Bao Pixar

Like many children of the immigrants, the dumpling boy grew from a lovable and docile child into a grown-up whose efforts to become independent included a rejection of the cultural elements of his country from his parent. To match his goatee and glasses to his new edgy attitude, the dumpling's relationship with his mother fell apart. The dumpling boy spent less and less time with his mother, choosing friends instead. He chose to play soccer instead of tai chi, he turned down the food offered by his mother, which included bread and a mouthwatering traditional Chinese dish that she had spent the afternoon cooking for him. An abyss opened between mother and son, but only one side tried to hold on.

And the last drop happened when Bao brought home a blonde, blue-eyed girlfriend. Her finger was ringed! Being desperate to not want her dumpling son to leave, the mother rushed out and devoured the dumplings, immediately collapsing in tears of disappointment.

It was a moment of stunner with painfully funny, admittedly even in its absurdity. When that moment was over, the mother imagined her precious dumpling silhouette in front of her and, as the picture came into focus, we would see it as her real son, now fully grown and returned home to make amends. He gave his mother the cakes that he had rejected from his mother as a teenager. And the mother and son and his fiancée made a new batch of dumplings, this time was for an extended family. The movie ended.

This short's depiction of a near-universal experience through such a particular cultural lens is conceivable to resonate more deeply in audiences than the usual Pixar short.

Slate's Inkoo Kang admitted she was taken aback by the short film and praised the film's attention to detail: "I'm not Chinese, but I immediately felt at home in the scene of the film in her mother's kitchen presented with dishes from her own childhood," she wrote. A BuzzFeed writer claimed that she was "sobbing all over" while watching the movie. Meanwhile, the audiences have drenched Twitter with literally tearful photos.

Bao Pixar

To others, Bao means even more: a sociologist named Nancy Wang Yuen wrote, “I cry because I feel proud of my cultural representation.”

When the newspaper writer informed Shi that, like many others, Bao had taken the writer from stoic to unrelenting sadness in less than eight minutes, she was sympathetic and compassionate.

For this short film, she drew inspiration from her own childhood in Toronto as the only daughter of a family of Chinese immigrants. (Shi herself was born in Chongqing, near Sichuan province, before immigrating to Canada as a child.) “My mother was always a super protector of me,” she said via phone from Los Angeles on the week of Bao's debut. . "I feel like my mother always treats me like a precious little bun, just to make sure that I'm always safe, that I never leave the nest."

Shi is coming home while talking to the writer — her mother is actually in the room with her, “watching” her while she talks, she jokes. Shi's mother, Ningsha Zhong, not only positions her place in this article. She is credited as the film's cultural consultant, or "The Dumpling Queen." The opening scenes of the film, in which the dumpling's mother kneads the dough and shapes the dumplings with ease, were copied directly from the self-recorded footage of Shi's mother, who held dumpling-making demonstrations for the movie production team.

Zhong is pleased with the short film (she watched it "four times," Shi added) but in case you wondered, she didn't cry at all. "I'm touched," Shi said, quoting her mother. "She's not really one to cry."

The dumpling's mother was partly based on Shi's mother, but film designer Rona Liu also included elements of her mother, Shi said. “Our grandmothers or aunts are also in that mother character, all the really strong Chinese female characters are in our lives.”

The cultural gap between immigrants and their children “is definitely something I want to touch on in a short film,” Shi said. “Especially when the dumplings are growing older and he has non-Chinese friends to hangs out and he wants to play soccer and doesn't like the Chinese food that his mother cooks. He wants to go out, play and eat McDonald's or something." The complexity of introducing new people — let alone a fiancé — to an environment like this family also shows the return on thought investment. “Parents have to interact with different people their children are dating or meeting. I really wanted to explore that identity,” she said.

Traditional fairy tales like Little Gingerbread Man also influences Shi's magical sentient dumplings. “I wanted to make a Chinese version,” she said. “I have always loved fairy tales, I think they are imaginative and magical. At the same time, fairy tales can be very dark and I like the contrast between light and dark elements.”

Bao Pixar

The Japanese animation legend Isao Takahata of Ghibli Studio, especially the 1999 liberal comedy “My Neighbors the Yamadas”, also guides Shi's approach to capturing the details of Chinese immigrant life.

“He had a huge influence on me creatively because he found magic in everyday life,” she said. “In this movie, the Yamada family is just like a really normal Japanese family, but he puts a lot of charm and heart into all the stories with them and he really captures every cut-life moment in their home." Thanks to that, the small features, easily overlooked in the house of dumplings: aluminum foil covers the burners on the stove; a roll of toilet paper on the coffee table, rice cooker in the background

Say nothing about the dumpling protagonist herself, Shi said that she always envisioned her main character as a dumpling, a steamed bun (fun fact: pronounced differently, the Chinese word "bao" also means "precious") rather than “fresh dumplings, because I really wanted him to look moist but firm and soft with the glossy appearance of the finished cake.”

Research for filmmaking included trips to countless Chinese restaurants in the Chinatowns of San Francisco and Oakland, for which the interesting idea of ​​“dumpling filming” was realized. chemical. “We took a bunch of pictures,” she said. “Well, according to the cinematographer, we staged a lot of photo shoots because we wanted to capture the moist, delicious, attractive look and tried to replicate as much as we could on the big screen. ,” she said.

Bao Pixar

The end of this cooking short film comes with a high-soup supper scene where a mother cooks for her son pouting dumplings: bok choy, sautéed beans, steamed fish with chili sauce, and of course, loads of delicious dumplings that look delicious.

That scene that meets the instantly growling bellies in every theater is the short film's toughest triumph. “The biggest challenge for us is the culinary effect,” explains Shi. “We are all experts in what good food looks like. So are all humans. So if it doesn't look like it's coming or it doesn't look good, it could ruin things." (Didn't happen.)

Meanwhile, Bao started as a personal project for Shi in early 2014. It took a year or more before she submitted her idea, at the suggestion of Inside Out director Pete Docter, to a concept called touting Pixar's short film program. Among the 20 ideas offered by the artists, Shi's was given the green light. She quitted her full-time job as a storyboard artist and spent time perfecting storyboards for her directorial debut.

The first  producer Becky Neiman-Cobb, who joined Pixar in 2004 as a production assistant, eventually teamed up with Shi to form the team. “We're kind of an independent squadron,” Neiman-Cobb said of the studio's short film program. “We don't have a big budget, we're always empty for a very long time because it's really up to the people that are available between the productions going on at the studio. So we often have to suspend production because there are no staff available.”

It took about a year and a half to complete, including many starts and stops. It has been the first project ever at the studio to be directed by a woman alone — or any female director since 2012's Brave, which was in the middle of production when Brenda Chapman was replaced by Mark Andrews. “We had a really strong leadership team of first-timers, a lot of them women, so for all of us it was really cool,” Neiman-Cobb said.

Bao Pixar

For her part, Shi said that she was "still shocked" by this special "first" movie.

“So amazing! I feel very honored and humbled and hope I will not be the last and I am the first of many directors of short and feature films to be women,” she said. She is also determined to work towards directing feature-length films. “Definitely I want to direct a feature-length film as my next big project. I'm currently working in the development department at Pixar. It's going to be a big challenge, going from an eight-minute short to a 90-minute film. It is still too early but we are really excited.”

When asked if they were afraid that the audience who watched Bao wouldn't be able to see the dumpling like before, Shi laughed. “Hopefully the movie makes people really hungry after watching it,” she said. “You know, really hungry but confused about eating dumplings.”

“A lot of dumplings got hurt while making Bao,” Neiman-Cobb teased.

But they both agree that if there's one thing audiences should do after they leave the theater, it's make a phone call: "Call your mom and invite her out to lunch!" they order. After watching Bao, nothing sounds better than that.

 

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