Pixar's 'Bao' serves up the Toronto experience — CN Tower, Chinatown, streetcars

Pixar's Bao serves up the CN Tower and other Toronto landmarks, providing a truly homemade experience of the city on the big screen.

Domee Shi, 1st female director of a Pixar short, draws on her life and childhood home

The idea for Pixar's Bao comes straight from director Domee Shi's childhood home in East York. (Disney Pixar)

Pixar's Bao serves up the full Toronto experience. 

The eight-minute film is the brainchild of Domee Shi, a Toronto animator, who is the first-ever woman to direct a Pixar short.

Shi draws on her life experience when portraying the story of a Chinese-Canadian mother, suffering from empty-nest syndrome, who gets a second chance at raising a child when a steamed dumpling she makes springs to life. 

"Making it take place in Toronto was, like, one thing that I really wanted to do," she told Tom Power, the host of CBC Radio's q, adding many of the ideas come straight from her childhood home. 

"We wanted the home to feel like an authentic Chinese mom's house because that's what grounded it in reality," she said. "It's those little details that make it feel real."

Shi, who grew up in East York and moved Oakland, Calif., after graduating from Sheridan College nearly a decade ago, explains that her mom had a "huge influence" on the short. She's even named in the film's credits as an "official cultural consultant."

"Making food was how my mom showed her affection for me because in Chinese culture you don't really say, like, 'I love you.' You don't really show your affection through words, you show it more through actions, and parents definitely show it through feeding their children," she said.

(Disney Pixar)

The mother-daughter duo have been making dumplings together for almost 28 years. "It's something that we would always do together," she said. 

Shi's mom even hosted dumpling making classes for the whole crew several times so they could study her technique. 

"We really show the painstaking process of making dumplings and I think by showing the step-by-step process you're showing all the love and blood and sweat and tears that goes into making food," she said.

The caricature of a handmade steamed bun and an aging Chinese woman venture downtown, where the CN Tower, stalls in the city's bustling Chinatown neighbourhood and red-and-white TTC streetcars are transformed using CGI. 

This trip is something Shi says she does with her family when she visits them in Scarborough. 

"My mom always takes me out for dim sum," she said.

"It's always been a huge part of hanging out and communicating with your family members and friends. You just go out to eat."

Bao hits the big screen on Friday before the highly-anticipated debut of the Incredibles 2. 

Domee Shi described her inspiration for 'Bao' during an interview with Tom Power, host of CBC Radio's q, earlier this week. (Vivian Rashotte/CBC)

With files from CBC Radio's q and The Canadian Press