Short and sweet, or perhaps that should be short and savoury, Bao is a food fantasy film that is imaginative, emotional and a sheer delight which also gives you change from ten minutes despite showing conception, birth, growing up and falling in love in its modest running time. This is Pixar at its best, one of those short films that often appear before the main feature film that is a way of exploring new ideas and giving new writer /directors an opportunity to showcase their (often first) projects. Bao was originally shown before The Incredibles 2 (by Brad Bird, director of the Pixar foodie feature film Ratatouille). Domee Shi’s debut delight paid dividends, resulting in an Oscar and the ability to write and direct a feature – Turning Red (2022). Bao is about family and food, the titular character a Baozi (包子 steamed bun) created by Mom (Sindy Lau).
Mom is a special kind of cook. You can tell this from the very opening of the film which is virtually photorealistic in its depiction of bun-making that leads the viewer to wish to repeat the culinary skills first-hand from the hands of a traditional cook. But Mom can bring her food to life like no other chef, not even you wishing you could repeat her traditional dumpling-making skills in your own home. Her food comes literally to life. Whilst creating Baozi for her and her husband (Tim Zhang) to enjoy she becomes surprised that one of the Baozi features childlike features and begins to try and speak. She raises the boy bun as their treasured child, seeing him through school and into adolescence despite being a touch overprotective. But as Mom’s offspring develops he turns into a stroppy teenager, finds romance and gets a fiancée. Will the thought of having her boy bun leave home give her bitter thoughts and regrets that may consume her?
Tactile CGI rendered animation makes the characters look more like claymation and therefore resemble more realistically the dumplings kneaded into life by Mom. Even the characters look like rice-flour dough to add to the whole foody feel of the piece. If there is one issue with the film it is that you want the recipe and cooking techniques to try at home (without the creation of new life you would hope!) This is an utterly delightful food film that is an odd but emotional fantasy comedy suitable for all ages and all appetites.
And there really is no excuse not to watch it as (at the time of posting) it is available to watch on-line here (via youtube)