Pixar’s definitely on a roll this year, and Sanjay’s “Super Team” (playing in front of “The Good Dinosaur” on Nov. 25) ) is very special and particularly Oscar worthy. It’s Pixar’s first semi-autobiographical short in which board artist Sanjay Patel (“Toy Story 2,” “Monsters, Inc.,” “The Incredibles”) comes to terms with his Hindu heritage, which he was ashamed of as a child growing up in San Bernardino. The little boy tries to watch his favorite superhero cartoon but his father insists that he mediate with him. Bored, he imagines summoning three Hindu deities to fight a three-headed demon in a thematic and stylistic assimilation of West and East (assisted by a lovely score by Mychael Danna, Oscar winner for “Life of Pi”).
Bill Desowitz: The project really took off when John Lasseter suggested making it a more personal story about your struggle with Hinduism and the tension with your father. What was your reaction to opening yourself up so vulnerably?
Sanjay Patel: I’m shy and I was very scared — I had to come clean with it. I was scared on so many levels: scared to expose myself to my peers, scared to sell out my parents’ culture or my parents. The fact was, straight away, John Lasseter came to me with so much support. Tell your story, tell your truth, have confidence and people will get it.
BD: It really elevates the story.
SP: I didn’t see it that way straight away. John reflected that fact and helped me to have the confidence.
Nicole Paradis Grindle: It’s hard to see those things yourself. You need someone else to give you the courage.
SP: Not just someone else — the boss.
NPG: To say this is interesting.
BD: But then the hard part was integrating it naturally.
SP: That’s where Pixar stepped in — all of us. And in every aspect of the production people helped.
BD: You mentioned character designer Chris Sasaki from Inside Out, Andrew Jimenez doing VFX, and Royce Wesley, the supervising animator. Pixar has become so culturally diverse and it must’ve really resonated with them.
NPG: It really did. People working on the film really related to it in their own personal experience at the studio and that’s what enriched it and helped digest the story in all its vast detail. It wasn’t generic but it was simplified.
BD: Tell us about the deities that form your super team.
SP: We feature three deities: Vishnu, Durga and Hanuman. Initially, the story was conceived around Vishnu, given that he symbolizes preservation, I thought he’d be a real powerful mirror to the father, given that the dad wants to pass on his culture. But people at the studio wanted to see more — it’s so much fun. And I didn’t see that even though the first book I did had lots of deities. So I thought maybe there could be room for me and straight away my head went to Durga because my dad very much had the religious practice based on goddess. And anyone who knows anything about the Hindu myths knows about Hanuman [the monkey god] and how funny he is. So if I was opening the door to introduce the pantheon of deities for a little kid, these would be pretty solid ambassadors.
BD: You also have a 2D superhero cartoon that reminded me of Brad Bird with “The Incredibles” and “Iron Giant.”
SP: Well, initially, I was trying to pay homage to Super Friends from my childhood, something with blond, blue-eyed superheroes. But then John reminded us that it didn’t have to be as cheesy and could be something that kids are watching today. And so that’s maybe where you’re seeing some of the connections to Brad’s work. So we took a different route with the 2D.
Read the rest of the story at Animation Scoop here.