Checking the reactions from social media, it is clear that ‘Bao’, Pixar’s new short screened before ‘Incredibles 2’, hasn’t been understood by most audiences. This misunderstanding was evident during my screening, with diverging responses from the audiences. While some people cried, others were laughing out loud.
The mixed reactions received by the short film happen to be due to a misunderstanding of the situation. While I was trying to understand the story as it developed in the cinema, my best friend instantly sobbed halfway through the short. In this sense, this is a very impressive short, one that connects instantly with those who have struggled with cultural pressures and family differences.
‘Bao’ tells the story of an Asian mother whose son grows with the American culture, thus leading to differences between family traditions and the culture were they live. She eventually replaces her son with a dumpling only to find out the same issues occur.
Even though I’m not Asian-American, the topic is much broader than it appears. Many films and series are so focused on American culture that they don’t show how they influence others. For example, even though in the US it is common to leave your house for college, in Venezuela teenagers stay at their homes almost until marriage. Some people stay at their homes due to the current economy in Venezuela, but it shows a cultural difference that could easily compare to those shown in ‘Bao’.
The misunderstanding of the short film shows that audiences are so used to one cultural way of living that they barely understand the struggle that the mother has during the short. Because people know other cultures and traditions, they consider the son’s actions as ‘normal’ because he’s living the life of a common US citizen.
Another thing that people might be confused is the fact that the dumpling and his son are the same person, one replacing the other after leaving the house. This article explains the fact that the mother is suffering of empty nest syndrome, a common situation in mothers who are left by their kids. Should the syndrome be explained in the short film? No. Maybe people without kids don’t understand it, but parents know the struggle that the mother has.
What ‘Bao’ does best is creating a deeper conversation about cultural influences and how this could affect a family relationship. Over the years, more and more people around the world with different cultural backgrounds are trying to fit in another country’s culture while staying true to their cultural roots. The problem is more present than ever, needing much conversation to comprehend the implications it has.
The fact that many audiences have been alienated by ‘Bao’ shows that globalization hasn’t been great at showing other cultures. The echo chambers of our current media homogenizes people, making it deeply complicated to confront another reality, tradition or culture.
‘Bao’ has crossed a cultural shift in animation that embraces a much more diverse global audience by showing a different culture but also expressing a struggle many people have as immigrants or even being exposed to media that shows other cultural norms. It is the kind of storytelling that shows that animation is able to convey a topic in such a way that opens up the conversation in a light-hearted manner. One of the strongest points from Pixar is how they deal with deeper topics in their films. Let ‘Bao’ be a sneak peek how what the future could hold for the animation studio. Just in the way ‘Coco’ expressed a different culture in a respectful way, ‘Bao’ exposed what the studio is able to achieve when they bring artists from different backgrounds, showing new realities that are relatable to a wider audience.