Sanjay’s Super Team is like watching The Avengers with a Hindu twist. It’s fun, action-packed, filled with beautiful artistic sequences, and meaningful all at the same time. Sanjay’s Super Team is the story of a young boy and his father. The father wants his son to spend time with him in meditation and prayer while the boy wants nothing more than to watch his favorite super heroes on television. Reluctantly, the boy joins his father, but through the power of imagination, the boy and the father come to an understanding and grow closer together.
Director Sanjay Patel brings a very unique and personal take to this short film that is nearly autobiographical in nature. Himself, born to immigrant parents but having grown up mostly in America, shares in common with the Sanjay on the screen this difficulty in blending traditions. But in the course of his real life, Patel has learned to embrace his cultural heritage and has even found a way to make it come alive for a new generation through his artwork and books. Patel, before becoming a director on this project, has written and illustrated a number of books about his Hindu heritage. And that’s how he ended up getting to direct this animated short. Producer Nicole Grindle explains it this way, “[E]ventually some folks at Pixar sort of figured he was doing all of this cool stuff and they said, ‘Oh. Let’s bring your artwork in-house. Let’s do a show at Pixar.’ We do that every now and then. And when we did that, John Lassiter saw this show, this beautiful artwork, and said, ‘Sanjay, you have to make a short film.’ That’s not usually how short films are chosen at Pixar. People don’t usually get invited.” But Patel was invited and what ended up on the screen came from his unique blending of two vastly different cultures.
Even the artwork is a blend of the traditional and the new. In his interview, Patel mentioned that he was influenced by other artists’ work like that of Samurai Jack and…The Powerpuff Girls. “[W]hat they (Genndy Tartakovsky, creator of Samurai Jack and Craig McCracken, creator of The Powerpuff Girls) were doing, in terms of strong poses with limited animation, and just strong, graphic storytelling. That was kind of the well we were drawing from.” The Powerpuff Girl influence is easy to spot in the sharp lines, crisp colors, and REALLY big eyes that Sanjay has. But Patel and the Pixar team have made this story completely their own. As beautiful as The Good Dinosaur is with its nearly photo-realistic setting, Sanjay’s Super Team achieves something equally as beautiful but in a completely different way.
Everything, from the lighting to the camera angles to the setting itself all contribute to this unique way of presenting this animated short. In particular, Patel’s commentary on the setting of this simple room where the boy and the father interact is so well thought out. He says, “The room (like the two cultures) is also divided into this east and west. You think the father’s on the east side. If you look at the details on his side, there’s a calendar and the shrine is a box with incense. And on the boy’s side there’s a map of the United States and there’s the TV…And at the very end, what we have is father and son sort of being in the middle.”
But what is most appealing about the story is that it really is universal. While Patel draws on his real life, it is also the story of any two people from different backgrounds coming to an understanding. As Patel stated, “You know, the original concept — it wasn’t just about me and my dad. I ended up telling John about the history of me and my dad. And straight away, he’s like, ‘That’s great! Tell that story.” And I think the reason he sort of zeroed in it was this idea that it’s a father-son story, and regardless of culture, he just felt that this was a universal sort of story, you know. One culture, or one generation, not understanding the other.” Perhaps with more stories like this, it will become easier for us to do exactly that – understand one another.
Sanjay’s Super Team will open in front of Disney Pixar’s The Good Dinosaur opening today!
- Read the Disney Nerds review of The Good Dinosaur and find out why it is the holiday must see movie for the family