• Beyond the Bao:

    Exploring the Short Film in Classrooms

Beyond Bao:
Exploring the Disney Short Film
in Classrooms

This is part of our Media Highlight Series which aims to support curriculum about migration through the exploration of storytelling – this includes literature, film and more. 

Bao, a short Pixar film by Domee Shi, was released in 2018. The short film explores themes central to experiences of migration including: family, culture, empty nest syndrome and food. Not only is it an educational film, it is an enjoyable film as well, one that is perfect for a humanizing exploration of im/migration and identity.

What does bao mean? A Bao is a Chinese dish, a steamed bun usually filled with meat or vegetables. We learned about the different translations of the word from Behind the Name. In Chinese, Bǎo means “treasure, jewel, precious, rare”. In Vietnamese, the name Bảo means “protection or security”. Keep these meanings in mind as you watch the short film.  

Our educational resources are organized  by our Learning Arc, which consists of 10 questions pertaining to migration. In a world on the move, we urge educators and students to consider the multifaceted nature of migration. Bao provides a powerful window into what we call the “ecology of ajustment,” offering insights into two questions that are central to our work:

  • How do newcomers come to understand the new land and their place in it over time?
  • How might newcomers and the receiving community balance their identities, cultural values, and world views as they interact with one another?

As the story unfolds in Bao, we see that the actions of the characters and their surroundings have symbolic importance. As you watch the film, look for symbols and symbolic actions. Teachers, if you plan to use Bao in your classes, we encourage you to consider the discussion questions we’ve included below. Moreover, we’d love to hear about how this goes for you, please feel free to email us at adam@reimaginingmigration.org

We couldn’t find the short film online for free, but you can buy it on YouTube for $1.99. It also streams on Disney Plus.

Reflection Questions


  • In this film, the animators have given the Bao a personality. How would you describe the Bao?
  • What does the Bao want to do?
  • What does the film tell us about what the Bao symbolizes?


  • Where does the story take place?
  • What do we know about the identity and culture of the characters from their surroundings? This includes decorations in their house as well as the neighborhood where they live.
  • What does the Bao’s room tell you about the differences between him and his family?


  • This family story is told through food. Beyond simply providing nutrients or something to eat, what is the role of food in families and their traditions?
  • What role does food play in your family and your culture?

Relationship between the Bao and his mother

  • What tensions can you see between the Bao and his mother?
  • Why does the mother eat the Bao? What might that symbolize?
  • Toward the end of the film, the protagonist’s son returns and they sit together and cry. Why do you think that is?

Deeper meaning

  • If someone was to ask you what the film is about, what would you say?
  • What is the conflict in the story? How is it resolved?
  • Are there things that resonate with your own experiences?
    • If so, what are they?
    • If not, then what’s something new you learned?

Disney Pixar published this informative thread about Bao on Chinese New Year (Tuesday, February 5, 2019):

You can also go to this Disney webpage to see how you can pick up a copy of Bao.

Learning Arc question for this resource:

What are the conditions in the new land and how do these shape the experience of migration?

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