A first look at Pixar’s Sanjay’s Super Team
Beyond the excitement brought on by the fact that Pixar Animation Studios will have two feature films out this year is the fact that means we also will get two Pixar shorts, and while most have already seen James Murphy’s Lava in front of Inside Out, we already know that the next one will be Sanjay’s Super Team in front of The Good Dinosaur in November.
At Comic-Con, director Sanjay Patel and producer Nicole Paradis Grindle presented the very first look at his upcoming Pixar short, showing the movie twice and talking about the film’s origins and production process.
We’re not going to get into too much details about the short itself, because we want you to be able to enjoy it for yourself, although we’ll say that it’s a dialogue-free short that involves a young boy whose love for superheroes is at conflict with his father’s spiritual beliefs until they find a happy middle ground. It’s a gorgeously animated story based on Patel’s relationship with his own father, as it confirms in the opening title that it’s based on a “mostly” true story.
The short opens on a young boy watching a superhero animated show on television and drawing pictures of his favorite superheroes while his father is at an altar trying to meditate and pray. Eventually, the boy’s distractions forces his father to shut the television off with the remote and calls the boy over to the altar to pray, taking away his superhero toy in the process.
The boy clearly has no interest in his father’s spiritual beliefs and while trying to get his toy back accidentally blows out the incense his father lit, which transports him to an ancient temple where he gets caught up in the middle of a fantastic battle between three deities and an evil spirit, which shows him how there are superheroes within his father’s spiritualism.
The film ends on a really wonderful, emotional moment where father and son bond over their interests as the boy begins to understand his father’s spirituality and incorporates the Hindu beliefs into his own drawings.
There’s quite a few things that make Sanjay’s Super Team so amazing and special. The first one is that it’s the first animated short from Disney that directly incorporates religion and spiritualism, not in a pandering way, but in one where it could honestly get non-Indian kids interested in learning more about the Hindu belief system and the various gods. It does this by using the jumping on point of superheroes that are such a part of the mainstream zeitgeist right now, both among kids and adults.
It also has quite a unique look from many of Pixar’s other shorts in a similar way as “The Blue Umbrella” did a few years back, because it doesn’t seem as cartoony even while it mixes 2D and 3D concepts quite fluidly during the portions when young Sanjay is watching television. The quieter moments at home between father and son are driven by such powerful emotions that you realize how personal a film this was for Patel, maybe even more than many other Pixar films, and that’s considering how many of them come from personal places, whether it’s Pete Docter’s Inside Out or the upcoming The Good Dinosaur, which was inspired by director Pete Sohn’s relationship with his Korean mother. (You can read ComingSoon.net’s preview of that film here.)
After showing the short, Patel told the audience about his backstory as an artist, self-publishing his own graphic novels like “The Little Book of Hindu Deities” and the graphic adaptation of the epic tale of “Ramayana” while at the same time working at his day job at Pixar for nearly 20 years. (Note: You can actually get a better idea of the visual style behind Sanjay’s Super Team at the Ghee Happy site.)
He then talked about how John Lasseter discovered his comics work and asked Sanjay to pitch him a short film and the filmmaker showed us storyboards for the original concept which involved a young thief breaking into a temple and stealing some of the donations only to encounter some of the Hindu deities and how that encounter impacts his life. That looked like a cool idea but Lasseter’s main tip was to “just tell your story” meaning that he felt it was better if Patel actually brought in his own relationship with his father.
Patel and his producer went through some of the visual influences and inspirations for “Sanjay’s Super Team” production designer Chris Sasaki including a scene from Ron Fricke’s “Sansara.” They showed a ton of gorgeous concept art and animation tests for the various characters including the three primary deities in the short: Vishnu, Arjun and Hanuman. They even talked about working with sound designer Justin Pearson to create some of the sound FX, showing a video of how the bell chime was created using an Asian bell mounted on a turntable spinning around. Patel also talked about getting Mychael Danna, the Oscar-winning composer of Ang Lee’s Life of Pi, on board to provide the music and how he never went for the most obvious choices when creating a score that very much drives the visuals and emotions.
Possibly the most moving portion of the panel was seeing Sanjay’s father react to finally being shown the finished short, a moment that was captured on film and shown to the panel audience. It was such a touching moment that’s not something people who see the short may ever have a chance to see.
Before going to questions from the audience, they showed the short one more time and it was even more moving and impressive after hearing about the film’s origins and production process.
Later on, we had a chance to sit down with Patel and Grindle for an exclusive interview, which you can watch below:
Sanjay’s Super Team will be in front of Disney•Pixar’s The Good Dinosaur when it opens over Thanksgiving weekend on November 25.