Short Film Bao

This blog entry discusses the animated short film Bao and gives suggestions on how it can be used in the classroom.


The animated film Bao can be exploited at different levels in the EFL classroom.


Plot Summary:


The film opens with a scene of a Chinese-Canadian woman making dumplings for herself and her husband. During the meal, one of the dumplings transforms into a child-like creature. The woman holds it as if it were her own child. As the dumpling reaches adulthood, it strives for more independence, challenging its mother and her overprotective parenting style. Finally, it tells her that it wants to live with its girlfriend and, in an act of desperation, the woman swallows it. The next scene shows that this act is symbolic, as the woman and her real son share a dumpling. In the final scene, the mother, her son and his fiancée make dumplings together. 'Bao' means 'dumpling' in Chinese, but can also mean 'treasure' when pronounced differently.













Domee Shee (right) receiving an Oscar for Bao



Screenwriter and director


Domee Shi is a Canadian who grew up in Toronto with Chinese parents. She wanted to tell a story that depicted the experience of being Asian in a country with a lack of Asian representation in the media. Domee Shi was also inspired by fairy tales such as the gingerbread man and Asian fables. According to Wikipedia, "Bao is a story about food and family and how the two come together to create a 'powerful emotional resonance'". An interesting detail is that Shi's mother was involved as an advisor on some cultural aspects; for example, she showed the film crew how to make dumplings, and such a scene was incorporated into the opening scene of the film.


Domee Shi tells the story from her mother’s point of view, empathising with her. In the film, she wanted to explore the feelings of grief and loneliness a mother experiences when her adult child moves out of the family home - and to explore what it must be like for a parent to go through this.



Film aesthetics


“The animators were given cartoon-like Japanese animations as reference. The bun son is made out of dough, so the animation was made to highlight the squishy and organic qualities of the material. (…) We wanted there to be this perfect imperfection in the world to feel more handmade and personal and warm.” (Wikipedia)


Many typical details are shown of the Chinese household to depict it as authentically as possible:


Like the tinfoil covering the burners on the stove, that was a fun detail we added. And the toilet paper roll on the coffee table. (…) Also the little tchotchkes [a trinket that is decorative rather than functional] on the TV, or the rice cooker in the background. The little details like the soy sauce bottles and the hot sauce jars and stuff on the table.







The film received mostly positive reviews. Viewers praised the attention to detail in the animated scenes and the portrayal of Chinese culture centering around family tradition:


There’s an expectation in many Asian communities for children to stay with their families until marriage, a lifestyle choice that is often sharply juxtaposed with the Westernized notion of children leaving the house at 18 and not coming back. It’s a struggle of two cultural norms that children of immigrants from all backgrounds often have to face, and seeing it on screen was an emotional experience for many. (https://www.polygon.com)


Other reviewers, however, felt that the film's theme was universal and not limited to Chinese culture. Some non-Asian viewers found the ending confusing.




Useful resources:


How Pixar's ‘Bao’ director Domee Shi ensured accurate representation of Chinese culture in her short film, showing before 'Incredibles 2'






The polarized reactions to Pixar’s ‘Bao’ are rooted in culture. https://www.polygon.com/2018/6/26/17505726/pixar-bao-dumpling-short-reactions




Domee Shi talks 'Bao' Incredibles 2 Disney/Pixar Short




Video - 5.06 min




Explaining Pixar's Bao Short for Everyone (An Asian American's Thoughts)




Video - 4.3 min (Some use of colloquial language and slang)



Using the film as a resource for intercultural teaching in the classroom


The film has no dialogues and can therefore already be used from an A2 level. However, at this level, students need some scaffolding (previous input from the teacher), for example when describing how to prepare a dish or how the ending of the movie makes them feel.



Pre-viewing activity



This activity is particularly rewarding in a multicultural group.


Ask students:


What food and dishes remind you of your childhood?


When and where did you usually eat it?


What are its ingredients?


Describe how the dish is made.





Watch the trailer and ask students what they think the film is about.






While-viewing activity


Ask students:


Who are the characters in the film?


What is their relationship?



Post-viewing activity


Students express their opinion on the film in pairs or small groups regarding the following questions:



What is the film about?


What do you think of the ending of the film?


What do you like or not like about the film?


If students have a lower intermediate level of English, they can take some notes before sharing their views. Afterwards, students can give feedback on their impressions. Give some information about the background of the film. You can then focus on the theme of family and family values and discuss the following aspects:

Chinese culture is centred on family tradition, whereas many Western cultures value individual independence and everyone's right to make their own choices. Young people in Western cultures therefore tend to decide for themselves what to study at university, what career to pursue and where to live after graduation.

Do you think that the situation of the mother in the film is specific to certain cultures, such as Chinese culture, or is it a universal issue that mothers and families face in other cultures as well?




 Bao at a glance




Release date

June 15, 2018 with Incredibles 2



Computer-animated short film

Screenwriter and director

Domee Shi


A mother who feels lonely after her adult son has left the house raises a dumpling and cannot accept its desire for independence when it is an adult.


Culture portrayed



Cultural aspects

Values: family

Sociocultural aspects: food


No spoken dialogues


Production company

Walt Disney Pictures

Pixar Animation Studios

Country of production

Canada and United States


About 7 minutes



on DVD, Blu-ray and streaming services


3-minute versions of the film can be watched on video sites such as YouTube.

Audience Suitability

From 6 years



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