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Pixar’s new short ‘Bao’ is parcelled with spirited animation

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‘Bao’, Pixar’s first short by a woman, promises to be a testament to the way animated films are staying ahead of the curve

A wide-eyed woman leans forward as child-like wails emanate from her steamer. In it, she sees a small dumpling, crying like a newborn. Instead of running, as one should do when food comes to life, the woman gently lifts the living delicacy and lovingly holds it close to her, a bond sealed instantly. That is the 20 second trailer for Bao, a short by Pixar Animation Studios, directed and storyboarded by Domee Shi.

The trailer for Bao is fresh out of the steamer as of last Friday, garnering plenty of excitement. In a phone interview, Shi and producer Becky Neimann-Cobb are over the moon to have their project play alongside one of the decade’s most craved feature films, The Incredibles 2. When the short comes out, audiences will explore the ups and downs of the parent-child dynamics through the colourful, rich, and tasty lens of the Chinese immigrant community in Canada.

Perfection of artistry

Pixar’s new short ‘Bao’ is parcelled with spirited animation

Bao, which also means ‘treasure’, is a reflection of Shi’s own upbringing, and when Pixar took her pitch onboard, she couldn’t quite believe it, given it’s quite a niche premise. In fact, Bao is so close to Shi’s heart, that she filmed her mother making dumplings to get the mirroring right in the film — from the dusting of the flour to the pinching of the parcels. “I was born in Chongqing in southwest China and grew up in Toronto. Growing up, I’d eat my mom’s dumplings in one go,” she recalls, “So when we were recording her movements, I saw how much energy and skill went into perfecting each one, and the fact that I used to eat them so quickly made me feel so bad! So there was an understanding with my mother that grew from making the film.”

Production took a year and a half, with first-time director Shi — perfectionist that she is — seeking that success formula to triumph production challenges. “The really talented artists we have on board are often working on other projects simultaneously,” says Shi, “and getting everything right down to the very movements took a lot of time, so that was a challenge and great learning curve.”

Neiman-Cobb hopped on board and, having been in the industry for over a decade, lent her expertise in production streamlining and creativity to Shi with whom she’d worked with on Academy Award winner Inside Out. “It was a story I believe in and Domee, from the very beginning, had such a strong vision for the film,” she explains.

Pixar’s new short ‘Bao’ is parcelled with spirited animation

Toby Chu lends his composing skills to the project, weaving together a compelling combination of Oriental and Western tonalities which show the shifting emotional moods of the film. “When we showed Toby the storyboard,” recalls Shi laughingly, “I saw his jaw drop and he said, ‘all right, where’s the camera? This is my life.’ The mixture of Chinese and Western instrumentals are a reminder that this is Chinatown in the West; that in itself was important to the storyline.”

Industry perspectives

It’s common for shorts to be non-verbal, leaning towards vibrant visuals, expressive production design and a mesmeric score for its language, largely because they are concerned with message and even style over box-office returns — and Bao looks to be no different.

And while shorts are usually seen as appetisers for the feature films with which they are coupled, ones such as Academy Award winners — Geri’s Game (1997), For The Birds (2000), Lifted (2006) and Lou (2017) — have long kept Pixar ahead of the game. For Shi, Bao is more than a project, but also a testament to how and why animated shorts are celebrated. In terms of the profit from these shorts, Pixar has also raised the bar; before, shorts’ only real income was possibility of growth for filmmakers, whereas films like the aforementioned have cemented filmmakers within a competitive industry. After all, it’s no small feat to spread a narratively rich plotline in a span of a few minutes.

Pixar’s new short ‘Bao’ is parcelled with spirited animation
 

Neiman-Cobb agrees, explaining, “Audiences are so much more open towards that cultural diversity within film in general and animated films elevate that.” Shi, who’s eager to see the world’s response to Bao, adds, “Earlier I had mentioned that I was worried this story would be too niche, but I think the theme of growing up and leaving the nest can be applied to other cultures too, and Pixar films tend to have that open honesty about them which I really love.”

Upon watching Bao, Shi and Neiman-Cobb hope for audiences to leave with a stronger sense of understanding towards families, as well as a little side dish: “I want people to take their moms out for a dumplings lunch after watching this,” quips Shi.

Bao’ releases alongside ‘The Incredibles 2’ on June 15, worldwide.

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Printable version | Jan 26, 2020 2:08:45 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/movies/bao-pixar-disney-short-domee-shi-becky-neimann-cobb-2018/article23556456.ece

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