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So, let’s talk about that odd and disturbing Pixar movie short before the opening of The Incredibles 2. It’s called Bao, and is intended to be a cute, happy tale. [pullquote]Well, Pixar, you created a new nadir for your work in this one sequence. Your good intentions brought up unsettling innate urges best saved for adult audiences[/pullquote]. Or maybe it would have been better to scrap it and try some less awkward projects. With all the creative scripts Pixar has to choose from, THIS is what they picked. It looks good, but doesn’t feel good. Kind of like eating a bad dumpling? Let’s begin.

We’ve agreed here that little children probably won’t understand Bao; I can’t quite make it make sense either, although for different reasons than a kid might.

We at RunPee suggest you stay out of the theater with your little ones until it’s well over. (That won’t effect the RunPee Timer, since we always start it during the first logo AFTER any shorts.) Our great-niece didn’t get Bao and looked disturbed, but hey little gal, I was a little disturbed myself! And this is a tiny kid who usually*likes* horror! I think the fail in this film is that there was no sensible set-up for what the lonely lady did. It comes as a shock, a queasy revolting payoff.

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This is a bad choice in so many ways. [pullquote position=”right”]The dumpling was pretty cute before he grew legs and became a a slightly creepy homunculus.[/pullquote]

At least the dumpling was still a cuddly toddler at this point. I can see the empty-nest  lonely elderly lady treating it as her son. Besides, what are the options — eat a squirming and squealing living being? Only Klingons still do that. And Gollum. And carnivorous dinosaurs. (Welcome to my geeky world. Have a cookie….now, back to this short.)

So, I understand empty nesters kind of seeing themselves in this situation. We’ve seen grieving mothers carrying around fake doll babies as therapy. So here’s this lady’s new reason to live, and someone who responds to her affection — who hugs her, loves her, and needs her. Doesn’t matter that is is basically a Golem, made by her own hands. I’m somewhat onboard with this so far. It’s not funny, and most of it will go over kids’ heads, but it might be somewhat cute…although too far plunged into the uncanny valley for others already.

Here’s where it gets weird. (Weirder.) The dumpling becomes a rotten teenager, starts dating, grows a goatee (WT-ever-loving-F!),  leaves his “mother” suddenly, and then returns just as suddenly, with a new fiance in tow, sporting a huge engagement ring.

The mother is frantic and wants her “son” home, now, and for good. She hustles the “hussy”out the door. The dumpling tries to go with her, but the mother captures him and EATS HIM.

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Yes she did.

Think about this. I totally get it that adults have an innate urge to eat cute things (think of nibbling a baby’s toes, saying “You are so cute I could eat you up!) This strange, off-putting behavior is encoded in the hardwired  area of the human brain. It’s triggered by seeing a certain look — large eyes, big head — and we get a little hit of instinctive recognition.   Selecting for this trait in adult creatures is called Neoteny, and we are are all subjected to a certain constellation of responses to something cute. This article explains the Phenomenon of Cute Aggression, and the unreasoning urge to harm/gobble up cuteness. I found a good video describing it too:

This is rather sophisticated science, melded with deep psychological taboo issues. This would STILL go over most adult heads in the awareness sense. I presume we are supposed to resonate with the urge on some deep animalistic level.

After all, carnivorous animals  — let’s say lions — don’t normally eat their young, and treat them with the fond tolerance that no adult lion receives, because cuteness has special status. Round fluffy heads and huge eyes are code for “Protect me; I am yours.” So, in other words, we are innately draw to protect cuties, married with the disturbing desire to eat or hurt them.

So yes, the lady eats her “son” and should probably seek therapy. But we are intended to get it — to get that by eating him, she could not only keep him home, but metaphorically put him back in the womb/belly, where she can watch over him and keep him safe. I know he would come out as poop in reality, but stay with me for the symbolism. 🙂

Up ’til now we had a few cute baby-toddler dumpling moments, some weird disturbing images of a humunculus dating a human girl, and then the bat-$!tt-crazy image of a momma eating her own son. (Zeus’ father did that once with all his children and look where that left him <—– tangent.)

Bizarre as all this is for a Pixar choice, I still don’t get the ending. Who is the young human man who shows up at momma’s door to introduce his wife? Are these the same people? Was there never a dumpling at all?  Was it all a bad dream, or was she daydreaming about her real son one day, while making the endless morning dumpling breakfasts? What are they trying to say?

Is he a REAL BOY NOW?…nope nope nope, that was Pinocchio.

Was Pixar’s intent to disturb their fan base? I can’t imagine them being so subversive. How did this get a green light? You betcha this short made my Do Not ReWatch List.  (I’ll write about that list some other time.)

Essentially, if you like disturbing elements in your cartoons, you will probably enjoy this more than I did. And in fact, the whole RunPee family is scratching their heads over who made the call to put something so unsettling in front of a huge blockbuster intended for adults and children. Pixar, stick to the stuff you’ve shown unswerving ability to find success in before. (“This is a bad call, Ripley, a bad call.”) If you want to be creative, try it on the smaller Disney releases.

Pixar Short Review: C- (For some good visuals and nice pacing. It looks like the creator was super enthusiastic about whatever their movie short was meant to convey. That keeps it from getting a failing grade.)

I still don’t recommend watching it. But if your curiosity is triggered now, give it a wack before you watch The Incredibles 2. Tell us what you thought of it. 

Here is the creator of the dumpling short (Bao): 

Read About The Incredibles on

The Incredibles ReWatch Review

The Incredibles 2 Review

Incredibles 2 and the Success of Animated Sequels

Incredibles 2 Poster looks like a Marvel Film


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21 responses to “WTF: Pixar’s Bao Short Before Incredibles 2”

  1. Jason Owen Avatar
    Jason Owen

    I think where they retired was the point of view. Perhaps it should have shifted to the Dad at some point? He is there with her but as the dumpling grows, he ‘reluctantly’ gives it more space, to work, date, etc but he hears all that goes on between the mother and son. We’d hear the slam of a door after kicking the fiancé out but NEVER see the dumpling eaten. Then a scene with the Dad looking in on the Mom crying. Then the Dad calling the son trying to get him to talk to his mother and the dad doing the same to the Mom. Finally, his hustle pays off! This would lead better to the scene where the boy comes back and stands in the doorway and hesitated and the Dad shoved him! Just what I would have done if I had written it.

    Also, I liked “Piper” and “For the Birds” best of all the shorts.

    1. I like how you would have done it better. I love it when fans come up with stories that would be better, more touching or realistic than the profesionals.

      Piper and For the Birds is good. I didn’t like the one where the organs are shown pumping around in that man. I find it mildly disgusting.

  2. Debra McKnight Avatar
    Debra McKnight

    I was also surprised by the short film. I was with my grandkids but I didn’t ask them about it. I probably should have. I did hear the 13 yr old say, “that was weird.” I got the message of a mother feeling a loss and a dreamlike state of substitution for her child who was grown and moved away and perhaps having a relationship with someone the mother may have disapproved of. But I felt the parent/child relationship resolved at the end. Maybe I was hoping that was the story. I need to see it again and pay closer attention to the details. Once again you give me too much to think about. Keep up the thought provoking comments.

  3. Thanks for your perceptive insights, Debra. I think you must have understood most of that better then I did. I’m not a mother and had to really think to come up with something sensible about this short. I still find it off-putting. So…was there ever a dumpling baby that she cared for, loved and ate? Or was it all a weird dream, as I think you are saying…and the young man was the only ‘real’ aspect?

  4. Mike Greenblatt Avatar
    Mike Greenblatt

    I loved it. I grew up with a Jewish grandmother and felt a lot of similarities. I was shocked when she ate him but understood just after that the first part was a metaphor for her feelings. It had a happy resolve for all and found the short to be touching. I plan to get the funko pop bao next month when it’s released

    1. Hmmm. I feel a little stupid now, as I did NOT get that she was creating a metaphor/daydream about the dumpling. I take everything literally and did not see that it was a metaphor (I’m like Drax from Guardians of the Galaxy 😉

      I honestly didn’t get what was going on when the ‘real boy’ showed up. And the eating the “son” part was just off-putting to me. I don’t think children would get it, and might be fearful of what they saw.

      This is a good conversation! Keep it coming…

  5. Debra McKnight Avatar
    Debra McKnight

    I am a grandmother who has seen her kids and grandchildren grow into adulthood and move out to their adult lives and develop relationships that have not always been of my choosing. Not bad…just mom would have done it differently. But allowing them freedom makes for some surprising outcomes. Just as the surprising end of Bao when the long lost son comes home with a companion. I understand some cultures have more helicopter parenting styles especially in Asian cultures. How easy it would be to invent a substitute child to fill the void. Eating the dumpling although a little creepy would also demonstrate ending the substitution for the child and give the mother the opportunity to open her heart to welcome the son and his companion.

  6. I dont think it is appropriate for children. Kind of scary. Tell me i am wrong.

  7. so , if one is not a parent, this wont make much sense?

  8. Some people are saying this makes sense if they’ve had a parent who hovered over them, never let them out of their sight, and would do anything to keep them around. Is that kind of the place this Short is coming from?

  9. The only reason you are confused is because this short wasn’t about white people and white culture. Maybe stop insulting this short that literally meant SO MUCH to our Asian friends in this country. So freaking disrespectful and ignorant of you to say these things. Maybe you would get it if a casserole came to life and yelled ungratefully at their mom. Get a clue man. Bao was a representation of the mother’s feelings.

    1. Thanks for joining the conversation! I’m very open to hearing how the short is seen by people who aren’t myself. I, like anyone else, can have my own opinion upon viewing Bao, but I’d love to hear more about the meaning I clearly missed.

      And also, it is a fact that my 5 year-old niece was confused and disturbed in the theater with this…it all comes down to eating the cute dumpling. It’s a disturbing image for that child at least, and probably others.

      This isn’t being insulting. It’s an opinion on my own website. But I’d love to hear what your opinions are, if you can keep it civil. 🙂

    2. I’m only relating my experience. And my Chinese girlfriend, born and raised in China, was freaked out too. So don’t come at me like every Asian person automatically gets some deeper meaning to this. That’s just as disrespectful as you’re accusing me of being.

  10. arthur herring Avatar
    arthur herring

    It isn’t that in Asian cultures parents are helicopter-y. It’s just that parenting is seen as more of an investment, and the children are expected to provide for/stay with their parents in return for the love and care that the parents gave them. That doesn’t happen as much in Western culture, where the children are allowed to just yeet their way out of their parents’ life, which is considered to be inconsiderate in Asia (in Hong Kong if you put your parent into a retirement home you have a sign a public “bad child” letter saying that you are unable to provide for them).

    The conflict in Bao is between the mother’s feelings and her child adopting a more westernized take on independence. The resolution is where her son realizes his mother’s perspective and begins to try and make amends.

    1. Yeah, I get that about their culture. Although that is slowly changing, at least here in China.

    2. I’m not sure that Western cultures will get that at all. I get that it’s not really directed for someone like me, but maybe it should be more clear, because the “eating your young” thing is rather shocking, dragging the whole endeavor into a direction where a lot of people are just turned off. I’m glad the short speaks to a lot of people who are underrepresented, though.

  11. I’m sorry, you obviously don’t understand it. At all. It was beautiful, sad and touching. It doesn’t fit in your box, but it was great.

  12. Jeremy, if you read the comments I wrote above,and also Dan’s you’ll see I agree I do not understand, and I’m not alone in this. I am happy to be educated, but I won’t be pigeonholed. Read the comments before assuming.

    I appreciate your input, but one can always say things without being insulting.

  13. Stella Swan Avatar
    Stella Swan

    I’ve just watched Bao for the first time and I was immediately confused, just like you were. So I took to Google to find out WTF the meaning of the story was.

    I’m glad I’m not the only one… And I await eagerly for someone to explain the true context of this as I don’t mean to be racist or to offend anyone, but I’m simply naive to their culture it seems!

  14. @Stella, thanks for your thoughts. I see this short is now up for an Oscar. I am starting to see why it might be a lovely story for a lot of other people. I still find it offputting, though. Different cultural taboos…IDK…’don’t eat your young’ comes to mind. 😉 But I guess that part isn’t the point. And there is still the innate “cute aggression” concept I mentioned in the article.

    There’s also the Uncanny Valley Effect, but I guess that’s not worth going into detail with at this time. (But, as an example, the reason why humans in the Pixar movies don’t look photorealistic has everything to do with this issue.)

    I really don’t want to be offensive, and I feel like I shouldn’t say anything at all, but discussion is key to tolerance, understanding, and communication, so I’ll encourage this discussion to continue.

    @Andrew, I am currently dealing with the need to have my father in a nursing home, yet am ‘trapped’ at home with my mother taking care of him, lest I be branded as a ‘bad child.’ But we won’t be able to do this much longer without getting sick ourselves from the stress of 24-hour caregiving. It’s extremely difficult. So I get that part. I didn’t think it related to Bao, but I can see the connection you’re making. As you said, in the West, we move out and take off, and that’s our normal, for good or ill.

  15. Lucy Ross Avatar
    Lucy Ross

    I just watched the short on Disney+ and they had a description with it. “A Chinese mom who’s sad when her grown son leaves home gets another chance at motherhood when one of her dumplings springs to life. But she finds that nothing stays cute and small forever.”. I think overall the short makes much more sense with that description. It is not as horrifying as it could have been had I not read the description(of course I am still slightly concerned by the way she gobbled up the dumpling like that). I think the creators did show some aspects well. They probably should have made a brief explanation so as to not horrify unsuspecting viewers though.

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