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Western Animation / Bao

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Bao is a 2018 animated short film (eight minutes) directed by Domee Shi, produced by Pixar, one of the Pixar Shorts.

A Chinese woman living in Toronto feels lonely when her husband goes to work. One day she is making bao (Chinese dumplingsnote ), when one of the bao she is making suddenly comes to life, sprouting tiny arms and legs, and a face. The woman is startled but quickly comes to love and cherish her little bao son. Years pass and the little bao baby becomes a teenaged boy and then a young man, while still remaining a bao and not actually growing all that much. The bao steadily grows more Westernized and alienated from his traditionalist Chinese mother. The mom doesn't like that, and when the bao brings home a white woman with an engagement ring on her finger, the mother snaps, and makes a terrible mistake.

Bao played in theaters in front of Pixar feature Incredibles 2. Compare Sanjay's Super Team, another Pixar short with similar themes. Notably, this was the final short on which John Lasseter had a producer credit, following his firing from Disney and Pixar the year of the short's release. As of this writing, it's also the studo's final theatrical short: all of their shorts since have been produced as part of the SparkShorts series on Disney+ and all of their features being accompanied by non-Pixar shorts. Domee Shi would later go on to make her feature debut with 2022's Turning Red, also from Pixar.

Bao the Pixar short is not to be confused with the Virtual Youtuber Bao The Whale.


  • All Just a Dream: The dumpling coming to life was a dream caused by the woman feeling guilty about driving away her son and his girlfriend/fiancée, though they make up after she wakes up.
  • And You Were There: The dream closely parallels the woman's relationship with her son, whose head is indeed shaped like a dumpling.
  • Anthropomorphic Food: The plot revolves around a Chinese dumpling that comes alive.
  • Apology Gift: The Chinese woman's son gives her a box of her favorite buns to apologize for running away with his girlfriend.
  • Arc Symbol: Throughout the short, various kinds of food - - but most prominently, barbecue pork bun (in the shop the bun they chose was barbecue pork bun) — are used to represent the mother's relationship with her bao son.
    • At the beginning, the mother and the young bao are picking out food in a Chinese supermarket and sharing the buns on the bus ride home. When the bao gets hurt, the mother feeds him a spoonful of the ground meat and vegetables he's stuffed with to re-inflate his dented head.
    • When the bao is slightly older, he wants to play soccer with some other boys, but his mother pulls him away so he won't get hurt, which makes him angry. When she offers him a BBQ pork bun, he refuses it.
    • He is then shown taking a soda from the fridge, eating shrimp chips in his room, and refusing to eat the traditional Chinese dinner that she makes for him and goes out with his friends instead, showing that a rift is growing between them.
    • When the real-life son returns to the house, he brings a box of BBQ pork bun to apologize to his mother for running away with his fiancée, and they tearfully forgive each other. The short ends with the newly reunited family, including the son's fiancée, happily making bao together.
  • Audible Gleam: When the bao brings his girlfriend home for the first time, the mother notices the engagement ring on her hand, complete with closeup and "ding".
  • Book Ends: The short starts with the woman making bao and ends with her teaching her son and his girlfriend how to make bao.
  • Both Sides Have a Point: The mother was being overprotective, barring her son from Western culture and preventing him from playing with "unsuitable" friends, but the son becomes distant and unappreciative even after he's old enough to try and see her point of view.
  • Child of Two Worlds: For all intents and purposes, the bao is a Chinese child, raised by Chinese parents, growing up in the West (specifically, Canada). The real son the bao represents is this by extension.
  • Cool Shades: When the bao leaves to hang out with his human friends, he replaces his square frame glasses with a sleek set of shades.
  • Creator Provincialism: The short is set in Toronto, the city where the director Domee Shi grew up in ever since she was two years old.
  • Culture Clash: As the Chinese bao grows up, he surrounds himself with Western culture, hanging out with white and black friends and dressing in American-style clothing, while refusing to eat the Chinese food his mother makes. He eventually falls in love with a white human girl, which sparks an argument between him and his mother.
  • Dating What Daddy Hates: Or rather, Dating What Mommy Hates. When the little Chinese dumpling grows up, he falls in love with a human girl, who his mother disapproves of. When he tries to leave in his girlfriend's car, his mother eats him. This is allegorical to the woman's dislike of her actual son dating a blonde, Western girl, leading to an argument.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: The bao dumpling goes through every metaphorical stage of babyhood, childhood and teenage angst, while the mother's remolding of the bao's dough when the youngster is injured is framed in the exact same light as a young child's wounds being treated by a mollycoddling mother. In another scene, the mother teaches her son how to make baos, implying she may want to be a grandmother. Also, the girlfriend making lots of good dumplings on the first try implies she wants to have a big family.
  • Double-Meaning Title: Bāo in Mandarin Chinese means "bun", and bǎobao is a word used to affectionately mean "baby" or "treasure" when referring to a small child.
  • Eiffel Tower Effect: Or in this case, with the CN Tower shown in a couple of shots to establish the city as Toronto.
  • Empty Nest: A lonely mother is gifted with a magical dumpling. The themes are explored with the fear of your child outgrowing you as their leaving the nest grows imminent. Not to mention they start to grow distant from you over a small mistake, like being overprotective.
  • Eyes Always Shut: The Chinese characters are all stylized this way, although the mother does open them several times to accentuate a shocked expression. The bao son also has these because they're only indentations in his dough, and also to serve as a visual parallel to the real son.
  • Food Porn:
    • Holy crap, the food that the mom puts out to tempt her little bao son looks delicious.
    • And just in general, the bao-making is given a lot of attention and love.
  • Five-Second Foreshadowing: After the dream ends and the scene cuts to the mother's room, a family photo complete with her real son can be seen above her bed, shortly before The Reveal that the dumpling dream was about her son leaving the house.
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus: When the mother wakes up crying from her dream, there's a roll of toilet paper on her bedside table and a pile of used tissues on the floor. She must have cried for a long time in-universe.
  • Get Out!: During the bao's teenage years, his mother hears him talking and laughing on the phone with someone. When she tries to enter his room, he pushes her out and slams the door.
  • Half-Dressed Cartoon Animal: Variation; the bao kid, after a certain point growing up, dons a shirt and glasses, but no pants.
  • Hidden Depths: The son's Western girlfriend/fiancée turns out to be surprisingly good at making bao, and it is made clear she did not learn it from him.
  • Interspecies Romance: The bao son hooks up with a real human, much to his mother's shock. Subverted, when the bao was an allegory for her real son, who is obviously human — the fact his girlfriend was shown as human is an allegory for him dating a non-Chinese girl.
  • Letting the Air out of the Band: The background music starts to slow down right after the mother finds out about her son's new girlfriend.
  • Like Parent, Like Child: Whenever the mother is shocked or surprised, her eyes pop open. At the end when her son's wife makes dumplings perfectly, they both widen their eyes in amazement.
  • Locked in a Room: After the dream ends, the woman's husband takes a shadowy figure and pulls him into the bedroom with the woman, locking the door behind him. After the woman wakes up, she initially sees the grown-up bao, but then she rubs her eyes and sees the figure properly as her real-life son. The father locked them in to make them resolve their differences.
  • Maligned Mixed Marriage: The final argument that leads to the mother eating the bao was when he introduced her to a Caucasian girlfriend. This exact issue is revealed to have been the final argument that caused her to drive her son away. After her husband forces them to reconcile, she accepts her new daughter-in-law, who turns out to be happy to engage in her new family's traditions.
  • My Beloved Smother: The woman tries to keep the bao son safe at all times, preventing him from playing with other kids. He gets increasingly rebellious as a result, eventually leading to him trying to run off with his girlfriend.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: The obvious reaction on the woman's face when she eats her bao son in a fit of anger. This is reflecting her real-life guilt about driving her son away in an argument.
  • Offing the Offspring: The mother impulsively eats her dumpling son to keep him from running away with his girlfriend. After realizing what she's done, she immediately looks regretful afterward. This is an allegory of her driving away her son in the same argument.
  • O.O.C. Is Serious Business: The mother's eyes are almost always closed, but when she sees her son's fiancée, a White girl, for the first time, she is so shocked that her eyes pop open and stay open for several seconds.
  • Or Was It a Dream?: After the mother eats her dumpling son, she wakes up in her bedroom, and it appears that the entire short was just a dream. But it turns out that her dream about the life of her dumpling child was actually her remembering the childhood and teenage years of her real-life son, who left the house after their argument over his new girlfriend. The audience only comes to this realization when the dumpling son appears in the doorway in shadow, and then the lighting reveals him to be the human son, who has a dumpling-shaped head.
  • Phenotype Stereotype: The bao's white girlfriend has bright blonde hair; there is no mistaking that she is Western.
  • Please, Don't Leave Me: The mother tearfully pleads the bao to stay when he tries to leave in his girlfriend's car. The mother eats him as a last resort.
  • Puni Plush: The human characters are all short and rotund, with soft curves and large heads roughly the same size as their bodies.
  • Secret Relationship: The bao and his fiancée are implied to have had one, because he doesn't introduce her to his mother until they're already engaged. Because of the implied parallels between her dream relationship with the bao child and her real relationship with her son, it's likely the latter also had this. Justified when you consider how the woman seemed determined to keep her son from integrating into Western culture, so he had every reason to believe that a Western girlfriend would be immediately rejected.
  • Self-Serving Memory: Despite being present in the household, the father makes almost no appearances throughout the montage of his bao son growing up. This is because the montage is the mother's dream, revolving around her relationship with her real-life son.
  • Silence Is Golden: Like most of the theatrical Pixar shorts, Bao is told without any dialog, though it goes a step further by having almost no sound at all besides music. The only vocal effects are the crying/giggling/cooing that the little bao makes when it is born, the mother's gasp of surprise when that happens, and later, her sobbing in regret after she impulsively eats her bao son for trying to run away with his girlfriend.
  • Small Role, Big Impact: The father practically disappears from the story just before the bao child comes to life, until the mother wakes up and he pushes their real life son to reconcile with her.
  • Spiteful Gluttony: When the son turns down the elaborate Chinese feast the mother cooked, we see her sitting all alone, shoving the food into her mouth and choking back tears.
  • Swallowed Whole: Bao's fate.
  • Tastes Like Disdain: When the dumpling boy wants to play soccer with some other boys, his overprotective mom pulls him away. He is so upset by this that he refuses to eat the BBQ pork bun she offers him on the bus ride home. Later, when he has grown into a teenager, she can tell that he is starting to grow distant from her, and prepares an elaborate Chinese dinner for him. However, he turns it down to go eat with his friends instead.
  • Tertiary Sexual Characteristics: The little bao is shown to have passed puberty by growing a teen boy's wispy chin hairs. Justified because the mother's real son has a similar beard.
  • They Wasted a Perfectly Good Sandwich: Subverted. When the bao child spurns his mother's elaborate Chinese dinner in favor of going out to hang with his friends, she eats the whole thing herself in retaliation.
  • Through His Stomach: Of the platonic/familial type. When the mother feels that she and her teenage bao son are drifting apart, she cooks him a huge Chinese dinner, but he goes out to eat with his friends instead.
  • Unusually Uninteresting Sight: Nobody seems to think it strange that a Chinese mother is walking around with a living dumpling child. He gets invited to play by some boys and, when he grows up, falls in love with — and runs away with — a human girl. This is foreshadowing that this is All Just a Dream.
  • Volumetric Mouth: The baby bao has one when he cries.
  • Wham Shot: When the teenage bao brings his girlfriend home for the first time, and the camera zooms in on the engagement ring on her hand with a "ding!" His mother is as shocked as the audience.
  • Your Tradition Is Not Mine: As the bao gradually grows older, he stops doing traditional Chinese things, and spends his time hanging out with his friends, and as a result, becomes westernized. And then, he lastly dates a non-Asian girl and is engaged to her, and his mother disapproves of it. When you realize what her real son is like, it becomes clear he doesn't hate his mother; he just doesn't want her to control his life.