Premiering before The Good Dinosaur on November 25th, Pixar's latest short film, Sanjay's Super Team, follows a young Indian-American boy named Sanjay who finds himself more interested in 'Saturday morning cartoons' than his father's traditional Hindu meditations. Two never-before-seen stills from the short film have been released online, courtesy of USA Today, showing us the new avenues and aspects of eastern cultures that Pixar has set out to bring to western audiences. Check out the high-resolution stills as well as an exclusive interview with director Sanjay Patel and producer Nicole Paradis Grindle all after the break!
Short Film Synopsis:
The seven-minute short begins with young Sanjay watching cartoons and eating cereal in a bland, beige room as his father jingles a bell, beckoning him to join in meditation. Reluctant and bored by the ceremony, Sanjay begins daydreaming a kind of ancient, Hindu version of ‘The Avengers,’ with the gods appearing like superheroes. As the daydream progresses, the color, light and animation of the film grows increasingly dazzling and cosmic, and Sanjay grows closer to understanding his father’s inner world.
USA Today Interview with director Sanjay Patel and producer Nicole Paradis Grindle:
Through the big eyes of a little boy, director Sanjay Patel has animated his journey from a California kid watching cartoons to a man respecting his father's Indian traditions.
Premiering in front of The Good Dinosaur (in theaters Nov. 25), the Disney/Pixar short film Sanjay's Super Team begins with a scene similar to Patel's own San Bernardino upbringing. Sanjay is glued to the TV and Dad interrupts by ringing his bell for morning meditation.
"I knew exactly what that meant: 'Turn off the TV, Sanjay, and get your tail over here. We're going to chant and count mala beads for half an hour,' " Patel recalls, laughing. "And I'm like, 'I don't really want to do that. I really want to watch Voltron.' "
Yet the little Sanjay in Super Team finds something cooler than his superhero show when he joins his father: Three Hindu deities come alive to take care of a pesky monster.
Wanting to fit in with his American friends, Patel initially pushed aside his immigrant parents' culture. But later he found respect for Indian legends and began illustrating them through what he learned as an animator on Pixar films such as Toy Story 2, The Incredibles and Monsters, Inc.
His new short "felt like this bridge I needed to bring these two things together," says Patel, who joins producer Nicole Paradis Grindle for a Sanjay's Super Team panel Thursday at San Diego Comic-Con.
The artwork and filmmaking in Pixar shorts and features have always originated from personal tales, Grindle adds. Patel's animation, however, "very clearly comes from a different cultural place than all the other stories we've told before. … And for kids who come from these backgrounds to see themselves on screen, it's exciting for us."
Patel, 41, chose three deities to reference in Super Team: the monkey-like Hanuman, the goddess of power and protection Durga, and the blue-skinned Vishnu, who represents preservation.
Some might liken them to a Hindu version of the Avengers, or an Indian take on Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman, but they're more meaningful than that to Patel. "I kind of have an insider's point of view so I see them a little bit differently," says the filmmaker.
The short doesn't have any dialogue so Patel enlisted the help of Oscar-winning composer Mychael Danna (Life of Pi) for a fittingly non-Western soundtrack.
For the moment when little Sanjay meets the deities, Danna employs a bansuri, a South Asian flute and spiritual instrument associated with Vishnu, Patel says. "It's a choice that only somebody who really understood the culture would make and something for sure my dad would really appreciate."
Patel recently brought his father, who runs the roadside Lido Motel in San Bernardino with his wife, up to Pixar's headquarters near San Francisco to show him Sanjay's Super Team.
It was a moving and proud experience for both men but also "very karmic," Patel says. "I'd be the first guy to sell out my dad and my parents' culture so it really felt like, man, I found a way back home and champion it."
It took Patel until his 30s to become interested in Hindu heritage so he acknowledges having some patience when it comes to his own 2-year-old son, Arjun: "He loves Mickey Mouse right now, and there's nothing I can do to convince him otherwise."
From both the newly released images and the comments from Patel and Grindle, Sanjay's Super Team looks to be breaking new ground in both story and visual technique for the studio. Taking on Indian Hindu deities is no small task, but who better than Patel who grew up with that culture present in his Indian-American life to bring this unique culture to western audiences. In addition, the second image in particular looks to be using the painterly animation style that has been in the works at Walt Disney Animation Studios for several years now (how in their short films Paperman and Feast), and obviously also at Pixar now for some time. I'm very excited to see where these new techniques and styles take Pixar in the future. For now, however, let's look forward to seeing this revolutionary new short film debuting with The Good Dinosaur on November 25th!
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