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Sanjay Patel Talks Pixar Short ‘Sanjay’s Super Team’
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Pixar Sanjay's Super Team

To say that Pixar’s latest animated short Sanjay’s Super Team is unlike any other animated short from a big animation studio would be a vast understatement. On the surface, it may look like a short that is talking about Hinduism, but deep down it has something a bit more meaningful and delivers a very universal message. Director Sanjay Patel and producer Nicole Paradis Grindle were at The Good Dinosaur‘s press day to talk a little bit about the short itself to Geeks Of Doom and our fellow journalists.

During the roundtable interview, we learned about Patel’s experiences that helped inspire the short to become what it is now, how the goal was to give the mass audience a universal message about family, what superheroes Patel used to watch as a kid, and much, much more. Check out our full interview with the director here below.

Sanjay Patel, is a self-confessed fan of Sanrio, who had illustrated books like Little Book Of Hindu Deities, which he considers an encyclopedia of Hindu deities. For him, it was really fun to mash super cute representations of deities with just a paragraph of information. Not too much, but just enough. He also had Ramayana, which was a huge book for him because it helped him “decode his parents.”

“My parents name’s, I understood what they meant,” Patel said. “I understood these stories that were so meaningful to them. I just take it for granted not growing up with any of this information. Once I did the reading, I was like, ‘Oh now I know why they do XYZ. Know I know why when someone sneezes, we say so and so,’ suddenly a lot more things makes more sense.”

While shorts have the chance to expand to feature films, much like DreamWork’s Home did, Patel has no desire to turn his animated short into a full-length movie. “Sanjay did not set out to be a director,” said Grindle. “He was an animator, and a story artist at Pixar. He was doing his books on the side. He was invited to do this short with John Lasseter, when he saw the work he had done with his books.”

He continued: “I had my thing. There was so many people I locked arms with. That’s the part I like. I like collaborating. That part is dope. Directing is stressful. Collaboration, that’s fun.” Grindle chimed, “I think really good directors know how to collaborate well.”

When you see Patel’s offering, it’s one of the very few animated shorts from a big studio like Pixar that is willing to openly talk about other religions, but in such a way that isn’t offensive or condescending. It’s a huge step. For Patel, it means a lot.

“I definitely didn’t want to direct anything that’s not who I am,” Patel said. “I was interested in… I don’t know… after working in animation for so long, my nieces and nephews worship Pixar, but they were never going to get any mirror of their family, let alone them, or anything from their community. ‘That’s okay, I’m going to do my books, and here I got this for you,’ and that was cool, until I got this opportunity. Since I had that opportunity, I got to do this man, and I came in fully ‘brown,’ like ‘Dude, John, we are going fully brown, like dark brown.’ To his credit, he was fully on board, 1,000% every step of the way, he was into it.” Grindle added, “That’s what he wanted Sanjay to do.”

As an artist, Grindle believes that Sanjay has become a bridge between his parent’s culture and American culture, and has become curious about being to interpret the deep complex culture. “I think the film is the first step to do that in the Pixar film realm.”

Lasseter was such a big help to Patel during the process of making this short from the micro to the macro. In the beginning, “the pitch” that Patel had “wasn’t as universal, it was more about a little boy kind of ignoring his culture.” He then told John the history about him and his dad, and what every morning was like. According to him, Lasseter understood what he was saying. Patel admits that the idea of father and son wasn’t a part of the original concept, but he explained to the Pixar head that it was a part of his history. So Lasseter inspired the idea to put those two ideas together. “It was John’s idea, that we put the photos of Sanjay and his father at the end of the film,” said Grindle. “That’s what really lands it for a lot of people. We were also addressing concerns about ‘would people think we are talking about religion,’ and the story is not about Hinduism, it is about this little boy’s experience with his father’s religion, and so when you see those pictures at the end, you get that this is their story, this is Sanjay’s father’s story.” Which has apparently never been done in any of Pixar’s short films.

As for what superhero shows Patel watched in the past, the short’s director mentioned Superfriends, and admits to the series being “poorly made.” But he did say he was obsessed with ninjas. “Ninjas were all the rage in the 80s. I can actually go into a ninja like club right now.”

As emotional as the short gets, there is also a little bit of humor in it, which would help lighten it up. But watching that short, you can’t help but feel that it draws connection to anyone who has practiced religion. Grindle mentions how the short can be “universal.” “Kids are like, ‘ugh I do not want to do this thing. I want to watch my TV show.’ Right? That’s probably why it resonated, that’s why you had that experience,” said Grindle. “We are so blessed with these amazing animators. We are just like the odd couple in a box, me and my dad, and he let those animators loose on it. It’s amazing how much kind of subtly, and life, and humor they can bring to it. Much of that credit goes to the animators,” said Patel. So pay attention to some of the smaller details, like gestures, these small things can help you appreciate and like the short that much more.

Like The Good Dinosaur, Sanjay’s Super Team was directed by a minority filmmaker. So being able to share this with his father was meaningful. But explaining his father’s reaction to journalists was a bit difficult. “So my dad hadn’t seen a movie in like decades, and I think the last movie he saw was when we had left the UK, and it was I think the Sound of Music. So he had never seen any sort of movies, so I don’t know how this is going to go down. He’s going to see computer animation about me and him, and our history, I don’t know,” said Patel. “But we flew him up, and he was super emotional. Breaking down. I’m like ‘Dad, what are you doing, keep it together.’ It was sweet. The way we sort of coalesced, it was like the father and son, we look into each other’s eyes, and figure out this way we compromise.”

During the end credits, Grindle said that the crayon drawings were made by the kids of the crew members. “We said to people who work on the film, go and ask your kids to draw. And their kids were psyched. Their parents work at Pixar, and they are like ‘WHAT! My artwork is going to be in the movie!?'” said Grindle.

“I fought for that one, man,” said Patel. “The drawing that little Sanjay does is done by me and Chris Sasaki, adults. Bullshit, man. You can smell kids art, and when it’s not. That was really important for me that we end on that note. Which is a kid’s imagination.” Patel even said that the kids who had seen the film are now going around saying “I’m famous.” Grindle added that they should have been at the press day doing their own interviews. “They are pretty exciting of having their artwork, I mean I would be. If you’re a little kid,” said Patel. “I think I have had one family member, that has come to see it, and they are like ‘wow that went by really fast.’ I’m like ‘dude, don’t blink, just don’t blink.’ But it is very surreal for them, cause family, they’ve grown up with me. But they are very proud of course.”

Seeing how much more progressive society has become, we are certainly more open to watching these kinds of shorts and being exposed to new experiences and cultures. It’s something kids of the 80s or 90s have back in the day. “I wish I had it when I was a kid, too. I’m kind of jealous, because that little boy figures it out in 7 minutes, it took me like five years,” joked Patel.

Sanjay’s Super Team is a Pixar animated short that will appear in front of all theatrical showings of The Good Dinosaur, which opens in theaters on November 25, 2015.

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