How Director Sanjay Patel’s Personal Story Turned Into A Universal One In ‘SANJAY’S SUPER TEAM’

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Courtney Howard //Film Critic

The magnitude of what director Sanjay Patel has brought to the screen in the newest Pixar short SANJAY’S SUPER TEAM is certainly something that’s not lost on him.

“After working in animation for so long, my nieces and nephews, they worship Pixar, but they’re never gonna have a mirror of their family or their community. Since I had that opportunity, I was like, ‘I gotta do this!’ I came in fully brown. I was like, ‘John, we’re going brown. Like dark brown.’ To his credit, he was fully on board 1000% every step of the way.”

Having cut his teeth as a character layout artist on THE SIMPSONS and an animator at Pixar, working on A BUG’S LIFE, THE INCREDIBLES, TOY STORY 2 and RATATOUILLE (even animating on Bjork’s “I Miss You” music video), Patel’s talents were selected for the studio’s elite shorts program. Over the course of several minutes, Patel spins a deeply personal – and incredibly exciting, humorous and touching – story about a bored young boy and his father and makes it universal in audience appeal. However, that resonance wasn’t always the case when the short was first conceived.

“The pitch that I had wasn’t as universal. It was more about a little boy ignoring his culture. Then I told John [Lasseter] about me and my Dad – what every morning was like. Straight away, he understood that story. That idea of father and son wasn’t part of my concept, but when I explained that was part of my history. John just seized on that and he also seized on ignoring your culture. He figured out a way of putting the two together.”

Producer Nicole Grindle added,

“It was John’s idea to use the photos of Sanjay and his father at the end of the film. That’s what really lands it for a lot of people. The story isn’t about Hinduism. It’s about this little boy’s experience with his father’s religion.”

The drawings of the heroes showcased during the end credits came from a special source – the crew members’ children. Grindle elucidated,

“We said, ‘Go home and ask your kids to draw.’ Their kids were psyched! Their parents work at Pixar and they were like, ‘What?! My artwork’s gonna be in the movie?!’

Patel followed up,

“I fought hard for that. The drawing that little Sanjay does is done by me and Chris Sasaki – adults. You can smell kids’ art and when it’s not. That was really important we end that movie, which is all about a kid’s imagination, on that note.”

It’s obvious the most important review came from Patel’s father.

“He was super emotional. He started breaking down. It was sweet, the way he coalesced it – the father and son look into each others’ eyes and find a way to compromise.”

Patel admitted,

“I’m kind of jealous because that boy figures it out in like seven minutes. It took me 45 years.”

SANJAY’S SUPER TEAM plays before THE GOOD DINOSAUR, opening on November 25.

About author

Courtney Howard

Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.