Disney Pixar is continuing its long-standing tradition of attaching a new short film to one of its theatrical releases, with the studio offering the first look at Bao, which will be attached to The Incredibles 2 when it arrives on June 15. The short film will be a historic one for Pixar, becoming not only the longest short the studio has ever put out (eight minutes) but it’s also the first Pixar short to be directed by a woman, Domee Shi. Pixar has debuted the first two images from this short film, while the director offers the first details about the story.
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Bao is described as a “culinary fable” about a Chinese-Canadian woman who has grown lonely, suffering from “empty nest syndrome,” who gets a surprising new chance to become a parent again, when, inexplicably, one of the dumplings she’s making comes to life. Domee Shi revealed in an interview that the story is inspired by the tales she would hear as the only child of Chinese immigrants. Here’s what the filmmaker had to say, revealing the double-meaning of the title, Bao.
“Often times it felt like my mom would treat me like a precious little dumpling, wanting to make sure I was safe, that I didn’t go out late, all that stuff. I just wanted to create this magical, modern-day fairy tale, kind of like a Chinese Gingerbread Man story. The word ‘bao’ actually means two things in Chinese: Said one way, it means steamed bun. Said another, it means something precious. A treasure.”
Shi first presented concept art images of Bao during a studio-wide meeting at Pixar, and after that presentation, Shi and producer Becky Neiman-Cobb were contacted by a number of employees with Asian or immigrant parents, wanting to work on the film. The response was similar to an early presentation of Coco, which garnered a huge response from the studio’s Latin community. Here’s what Shi had to say about those initial responses from Pixar employees.
“It felt like a really universally appealing story that a lot of people could identify with. We got a ton of e-mails from people identifying with the mom character, or the dumpling character, saying, ‘Wait, that’s me,’ or ‘That’s my parents,’ or ‘I’m dealing with this right now.'”
Shi also got some help from her mother, Ningsha Zhong, who Shi describes as a “dumpling master.” Zhong served as a “cultural consultant,” performing two demonstrations on how to make dumplings, which were carefully studied by all of the animators. The cameras were placed “super close to her hands” to show every little detail, and those videos were used as reference for the animators. Producer Becky Neiman-Cobb also revealed there was another challenge to making the film that they weren’t expecting.
“You know Pixar and you know the special effects we can pull off here: explosions and water and splashes and fire and fireworks. One of the biggest challenges, and what brought our effects department to their knees, was Dumpling’s pork filling. That was hard. We learned there’s a very fine line between looking delicious and appetizing and looking wrong or gross. Making our food look delicious was a big triumph.”
Shi also added that they did “research” for Bao, which involved eating plenty of dumplings. Along with the first look at the main character and her dumpling that comes to life, Entertainment Weekly debuted a concept art image that features a number of dumpling designs. Take a look at these images below as we wait for more on Bao, arriving in theaters June 15, playing in front of The Incredibles 2.