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Pixar Animation Studios’ latest short, director Sanjay Patel’s Sanjay’s Super Team, is a CG animated daydream of a young, first-generation Indian-American boy who is absorbed in the world of cartoons and comics, while his father tries to draw him to Hindi traditions.
Currently playing before Pixar’s latest feature, The Good Dinosaur, it was produced by Nicole Grindle and is one of 10 projects that remain in contention for the Oscar for animated short.
The six-minute production was very personal for Patel. “I felt like growing up, I really had no appreciation of my father’s culture,” he told The Hollywood Reporter. “You can have this appreciation of your superheroes from the West. The message is to discover the superheroes right under your noise.”
The influences on the work combines American TV animation, Indian art and spiritual mythology. “We had two characters who symbolized east and west,” he said. “The boy is obsessed with TV animation, so I drew upon my love of animation such as Super Friends and Powder Puff Girls. And when we looked east in terms of my father’s world, there were ancient temples in service of enlightenment and deities, which were in service of transmitting these great myths. You see the battle that happens between the Gods and demons in the east, and the boy connects it to the superheroes and villains from the west. And once he finds that connection, he finds a way to connect to his father.
“We were trying to communicate this rich subject matter of Indian philosophy and culture — and were trying to communicate so much of that in six minutes without any dialog,” he continued. “A challenge was not to make it too esoteric where we lose our American audiences, and not water it down to where people of the Indian-American community would feel that it was dumbed down. It was finding that sweet spot.”
The story is bookended with a beige color palette, Patel said, adding that “many immigrants come to, let’s say a rented apartment that has no trace of the richness of the culture.”
As the daydream begins, he opened up the palette.”It’s bathed in light and color, detail and richness. We save the cultural detail and richness for the daydream. When the boy wakes up, he has a new appreciation for his father and his culture and the connection that they can foster.
“In the beginning they’re in a very dark room; there’s a candle and the artificial light of the TV. At the end of the story, the father turns out the candle in the shrine and the boy turns off the TV, and he opens the window and a natural white light floods the room and the boy and his father finally connect.”
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