It was the little film about dumplings that could — and it did!
And along the way, “Bao” shone a spotlight on the impressive talent, tasty Chinese eats, and cultural richness for which Torontonians are so rightfully proud.
Directed by Domee Shi, the animated film made hearts melt in summer 2018 when it premiered ahead of the “Incredibles 2,” and scored an Academy Award Sunday night for “Best Animated Short.”
“To all the nerdy girls out there, who hide behind their sketch books, don’t be afraid to tell your stories to the world!” Shi said as she accepted the Oscar alongside producer Becky Neiman-Cobb. Neiman-Cobb thanked her “little bao,” daughter Lucy, and said she got to help make “Bao” just as she was becoming a mom, which made the experience really special.
It’s been quite the year for Chinese-Canadian Shi, who with “Bao” became the first woman to ever direct a short at animation giant Pixar. And even before the short premiered last June, “Bao” and its young director were winning praise for the film’s loving treatment of the sometimes intense and protective love that children of Chinese parents can experience.
Shi was born in Chongqing, China, immigrated with her parents to Canada and settled in Toronto at a young age, and “Bao” is as much a love letter to the sights and sounds of the city as it is a story about the relationship between an empty-nest Chinese-Canadian mom and her dumpling son.
Watch: See if you can catch glimpses of Toronto in this clip of “Bao.” Story continues below.
When it was released, Asians in Canada and across North America were touched by the way “Bao” so accurately (and adorably) depicted their realities. The details in the family’s home, the way Ma shows her son love with a feast of dishes, the trip to a Chinese grocery, the stop into the bakery to pick up fresh pastries — all of it was so carefully recreated by Shi and her team (her mom even gave the animators dumpling-making lessons), and it hit home in a big way.
Asian peeps were, not surprisingly, fully behind Shi’s win on Sunday:
Shi faced some stiff competition from former Sheridan College classmate and current Pixar colleague, Trevor Jimenez, whose short about divorce, “Weekends,” was also nominated in the same category, alongside two other fellow Canadians, David Fine and Alison Snowden for the National Film Board’s “Animal Behaviour.”
Shi gave a nod on the red carpet to the NFB as a guiding influence when she spoke to eTalk’s Ben Mulroney:
“We all grew up with NFB, with the Canadian government just backing shorts for such a long time, it’s like a part of our history and our culture.”
Jimenez also gave a nod to his Canadian roots to Mulroney, saying, “I think there’s a Canadian, kind of quirky sense of humour, that translates well into animation.”
In an unrelated category, Canadian sound engineer Paul Massey also won his first Oscar for his work on “Bohemian Rhapsody.” He won the trophy alongside Tim Cavagin and John Casali in the best sound mixing category.
Watch: Trevor Jimenez talks about “Weekends.” Story continues below.
Weekends- “A Personal Story” from Trevor Jimenez on Vimeo.
Shi also confirmed she was on deck to direct a full feature with Pixar, and said she was “really happy to keep representing my Canadian and Chinese roots.”
Is that a hint of the direction the feature will take? We’ll have to wait and see, but in the meantime, let’s bask in the golden glory of her Oscar win, and if that means steaming/ordering/making some of your favourite dumplings, we fully support it.
With a file from The Canadian Press.
The “Animal Behaviour” directors talk about their short.