I was invited to take part in a roundtable interview with Sanjay’s Super Team director, Sanjay Patel and producer, Nicole Grindle.
For those of you who don’t know, Sanjay’s Super Team is a Disney/Pixar short film.
The short is being shown in theaters, right now, along with the new Disney/Pixar animated feature, The Good Dinosaur.
And it’s magical. And hilarious. And important.
As an animator and story artist for Pixar, Patel had an idea, which was inspired by his own life and his relationship with his father, for a book about a little boy struggling to find his place between his American lifestyle and his family’s heritage.
However, instead of a book, this idea blossomed into a short film that explores the themes of love, family, the father/son relationship, and self-discovery.
Sanjay’s Super Team is truly amazing. Many first generation Americans will be able to relate to this film. It flawlessly illustrates the struggle that little Sanjay feels over pleasing his father and his Hindu traditions, and enjoying what he loves as a young, American boy!
This short film says so much in a small amount of time. The artistry, in both visual storytelling and animation, is mind-blowing.
Furthermore, the short doesn’t have much dialogue, which I thought was rad! Instead, the film uses the beauty of the father/son relationship, our understanding of little Sanjay’s struggle, and the stunning visuals, to connect emotionally and intimately with the audience.
It’s just so wonderful.
So much love was put into the making of Sanjay’s Super Team. To hear more about the short, check out the interview below:
Question: This is trailblazing stuff. How exciting is that and what does it mean to you to do something like this?
Sanjay Patel: I mean, I definitely didn’t wanna direct anything, that’s not who I am. But I was interested in trying to show—I don’t know, like 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. And I was like, that’s okay, you know, I’m going to do my own books and here! I got this for you!
And that was cool until I got this opportunity and since I had this opportunity, I was like fudge man, I’ve gotta do this man… And I came in like fully brown! I’m like, dude, John [Lasseter, Pixar’s Chief Creative Officer], we’re going brown – dark brown!
(Patel gestures to his skin color and everyone laughs)
Sanjay Patel continues: And to [John Lasseter’s] credit, he was fully on board 1000% and he backed it every step of the way two years into it.
Nicole Grindle: That’s what he wanted Sanjay to do – that’s what he was inviting him to do.
Question: Can you talk about the personal aspects of the film? This short is so personal yet so universal.
Sanjay Patel: So much of that credit goes to John [Lasseter]. Straight away, the pitch that I had maybe wasn’t as universal— It was more about a little boy ignoring his culture.
And then I told John about, you know, the history of me and my dad and what every morning was like. And then, straight away, he understood that story. And that idea of father and son wasn’t always in there. That wasn’t part of my concept but I explained that that was part of his history and John just seized on that and he also seized on ignoring your culture. And he figured out a way to kind of inspire putting those two together.
Question: I was curious about the amazing humor in the short! Can you tell me a little bit about why the humor works so well? Because it felt like a driving force to get us to that emotional place.
Sanjay Patel: I think the animators, you know, at Pixar. We are so blessed with these amazing animators. And you just have the odd couple in the box with me and my dad and you let those animators loose on it. It’s amazing how much subtlety and life and humor they can bring to it. Honestly, much of that credit goes to the animators.
Nicole Grindle: I remember the first time you saw the blocking for when he throws the match over his shoulder. We all burst out laughing because that was the animator who brought that detail.
Question: Has your dad seen the short?
Sanjay Patel: Yeah, he has!
Question: What does he think of it?
Sanjay Patel: So my dad hadn’t seen a movie in decades. And I think the last movie he had seen was when he left the UK and it was the Sound of Music. So he’d never seen any Pixar animation or any of the Pixar movies.
Nicole Grindle: That Sanjay had worked on.
Sanjay Patel: Right! So he’d never seen any of this stuff. And, so I was like, I don’t know how this is going to go down, man. He’s going to see computer animation about me and him and our history?! Like, I don’t know about this.
But we flew him up and we showed him the short and, you know, he was just super emotional, man. He started breaking down and I’m like, “Dad, what are you doing, man?! Keep it together!”
Sanjay Patel continues: But it was sweet. You know, the way he sort of like coalesced it – he was like, “Yeah the father and son, they look into each other’s eyes and they figure out this way to compromise.” And I was like, “Yeah, Dad!”
At the end of the short, we see children’s drawings shown along with the credits. During the interview, we learned that those drawings where from the children of the film’s crew members!
Here is what Patel had to say about the significance of that:
“It was really important that we end that movie on that note. Which is all about a kid’s imagination.”
Patel also said this, totally hilarious thing, about wishing that he had seen this short as a child:
“I wish I had [this short to watch] when I was a kid too for sure. It’s like, I’m kind of jealous because that little boy figures it out in like seven minutes, it took me 35 years!”
Sanjay’s Super Team is playing in theaters now alongside The Good Dinosaur! (Specifically, the short plays right before The Good Dinosaur begins.) And they are both amazing films! Enjoy!
To learn about The Good Dinosaur, check out my movie review here!