Pixar’s SANJAY’S SUPER TEAM a Trippy Journey into Hindu Culture

Shorts are part of Pixar Animation Studios’ DNA, ever since John Lasseter’s Tin Toy won the Academy Award for best animated short film in 1988.  Beginning with Pixar’s second film, A Bug’s Life, a Pixar short has preceded each of their theatrical releases, and SANJAY’S SUPER TEAM will be the featured short in front of Disney•Pixar’s THE GOOD DINOSAUR - opening November 25th.  In SANJAY’S SUPER TEAM, director Sanjay Patel weaves a very personal and “mostly true” chronicle of his journey to understand the Hindu world so important to his parents, but after talking to Sanjay Patel about the short on a recent press trip to Pixar Studios - that simple description does not scratch the surface of the emotional impact of this little film.  Continue reading for more about SANJAY’S SUPER TEAM.

Updated December 16, 2015

EW published a behind-the-scenes VIDEO look at the making of SANJAY’S SUPER TEAM.

Original post from November 19, 2015 follows below…

DISCLOSURE: I was hosted by Walt Disney Studios on an all expense paid trip to San Francisco, California including airfare, hotel accommodations, transportation, and meals to attend this press event and learn more about Disney’s films and shows. All opinions expressed are those of the author.

Sanjay Patel

Sanjay Patel at Pixar Animation Studios in Emeryville, CA, photo by Deborah Coleman, courtesy Pixar.

In SANJAY’S SUPER TEAM, the new short film from Pixar Animation Studios, accomplished artist Sanjay Patel uses his own experience to tell the story of a young, first-generation Indian-American boy whose love for western pop culture comes into conflict with his father’s traditions. Sanjay is absorbed in the world of cartoons and comics, while his father tries to draw him into the traditions of his Hindu practice.  Director Sanjay Patel was quite blunt when talking with reporters at Pixar, and said he hated his father’s traditions, hated being the only “brown boy” in school, and wished he was more like his peers.

Moving away from home, Patel attended art school at the Cleveland Institute for the Arts, Cal-Arts, and eventually landed a job at Pixar in 1996 as an animator on A Bug’s Life.  Since then he has worked on many of Pixar’s feature films - as an animator on Toy Story 2, Monster’s Inc., The Incredibles, Ratatouille, CarsToy Story 3 and Monsters University; a storyboarder for Monster’s Inc., The Incredibles and Toy Story 2; and even as animation supervisor for many of the shorts in the Cars Toons Mater’s Tall Tales series.  During these years at Pixar, Sanjay Patel noticed more and more Indian influence seeping in to music, art, and Western pop culture.  The traditions he sought to escape had found him yet again, and this time Patel decided it was time to learn more about and understand his father’s culture.


Concept Art by Paul Abadilla (Artist). ©2015 Disney•Pixar. All Rights Reserved.


Sanjay Patel used art to connect with his Indian roots and created a graphic novel translating the traditional Hindu myth and epic poem Ramayana.  Patel’s Ramayana - Divine Loophole was illustrated with a comic book design helping the author (as well as young people today) connect with and relate to the tale.

Ramayana – Divine Loophole

Ramayana – Divine Loophole © Sanjay Patel, All Rights Reserved.


Afterwards, Patel created a series of picture books re-envisioning Hindu gods and goddesses all while educating himself about his father’s deities and presenting it in a modern, pop-culture way.


Concept Art by Sanjay Patel (Director). ©2015 Disney•Pixar. All Rights Reserved.


Pixar took notice of Sanjay Patel’s artwork, asked him to create an exhibition, and also to make a short film.  “I turned them down three times,” Sanjay Patel said, and his father eventually convinced the younger Patel to stop turning Pixar down and create the short.  His father explained that Pixar was responsible for feeding and clothing him, and to not make the film would be disrespectful.  For the story, Sanjay Patel returned to a familiar theme - understanding his culture and the conflict between his father’s traditions and a boy’s love of cartoons and comic books, and while researching the story Patel finally made the trek to India.


Concept Art by Paul Abadilla (Artist). ©2015 Disney•Pixar. All Rights Reserved.


Spending time in India gave Sanjay Patel a new appreciation of his father’s Hindu religion, culture, and traditions, and that is the metaphorical journey Patel depicts in SANJAY’S SUPER TEAM.  In the short, as young Sanjay is drawn into his father’s tradition with tedium and reluctance, he eventually sees the deities in a fresh-light, and comes to a new perspective that both father and son can embrace.


SANJAY’S SUPER TEAM ©2015 Disney•Pixar. All Rights Reserved.


Oh, and if you’re wondering what Sanjay Patel’s father thought about the journey his son took getting to SANJAY’S SUPER TEAM - Pixar recorded the father’s reaction to watching the short.  Let’s just say it was filled with tears and a hug, and Sanjay Patel told us those hugs from his father are a very rare occurrence.  You can see SANJAY’S SUPER TEAM in front of Disney•Pixar’s THE GOOD DINOSAUR beginning November 25.

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About Dave Parfitt

Married, father of two girls, and living in the heart of the Finger Lakes. I'm a runner with a PhD in neuroscience and a passion for travel.