The new animated short opening ahead of The Good Dinosaur Nov. 25 is teeming with vibrant colors, action, and emotion, as seen in the exclusive clip above. And in that regard, Sanjay’s Super Team fits right in with the Pixar Animation canon. But the film also breaks new thematic ground, centering on an Indian-American boy and his immigrant father.
The seven-minute short is based on director Sanjay Patel’s own childhood — specifically the culture clash he experienced with his devout father growing up in San Bernadino, California. “Every morning my dad worshipped his gods and his shrine, and I worshipped mine in mine — which was the TV,” Patel told Yahoo Movies during a recent phone interview. And that’s exactly how the short starts out, with little Sanjay watching his favorite cartoon, the fictional Super Team (loosely based on Patel’s own boyhood love of Super Friends).
A young Sanjay Patel with his father, Gopal Patel (Photo: Pixar Animation Studios)
Most of the short unfolds in Sanjay’s active imagination. While the boy would prefer to watch his cartoons than worship with his dad, in his mind, his father’s deities come to life in a heroic adventure. Instead of embedding typical Pixar references — like hidden Mickey Mouses and other familiar characters — Sanjay’s Super Team is full of Hindu symbols. “There’s lots of Easter eggs if you’re familiar with the culture,” said Patel. “And if you are, man, there’s tons of stuff.”
That includes the trio of Hindu deities/superheroes, who Patel selected very deliberately. The first pick was Vishnu, the blue god of preservation and balance. “He was a very important deity to me just because the theme of the short is the father trying to pass on culture to his son,” Patel explained. Then there’s Durga, the mother goddess in her warrior manifestation. “She just seemed so appropriate for bringing to life a superhero team.” Finally, Patel chose half-monkey, half-god Hanuman to reflect the popularity of animal worship within the religion. “His mythologies are so ubiquitous in Southeast Asia,” he said.
Sanjay and the deities (Photo: Pixar Animation Studios)
When Patel presented his initial idea to Disney Animation and Pixar chief John Lasseter, the 'toon titan lit up, Patel recalled, instructing the young animator to “tell the truth of the experience.” Patel is also telling the truth about how Indians were either stereotyped or nonexistent in pop culture when he was growing up in the 1980s. “There are some painful memories,” Patel admitted. “There were a lot of South Asians running convenience stores [in movies and on TV].” While he’s quick to point out that it’s changed for the better with shows highlighting more nuanced characters, “growing up, it was bleak.”
With Sanjay’s Super Team, Patel tells Yahoo he’s excited to present “someone of a different background who is immersed in a culture that is foreign, and maybe foreign to most Americans.” That’s enough to make any dad proud.