Pixar short film: Those three words bring to mind clever, charming little movies like “For the Birds,” “Geri”s Game,” and, of course, “Luxo Jr.”
With the latest in that line of animated shorts, “Sanjay”s Super Team,” Pixar is going in a few new directions, with both story and animation style.
“Super Team” will screen in front of “The Good Dinosaur,” Pixar”s new feature opening in theaters this Wednesday.
It”s a very personal story. Similar could be said of “La Luna,” the short paired with 2012″s “Brave.” But with “Sanjay”s Super Team,” Pixar head John Lasseter encouraged director Sanjay Patel to make the short even more personal and more directly based on his childhood than his earlier versions of the film, and Patel was surprised that the studio wanted his name to be in the title.
The short tells the story of little Sanjay, who is far more interested in cartoons and comics (particularly his favorite Saturday morning cartoon, “Super Team”) than in his father”s Hindu traditions – much to his father”s dismay.
Patel, like little Sanjay in the short film, has long felt reluctant to partake in any cultural or religious traditions of his Gujarati parents. His father was born in Tanzania and also lived in India and the U.K. before settling in Lido Motel in San Bernardino, Calif., which they still own and operate today. It was inside that motel where Patel played with Transformers toys, read Superman comics and watched “Looney Tunes” while his father performed daily Hindu rituals of meditation and prayer.
“I was so embarrassed of how I grew up. I was so embarrassed of my parents and my identity,” Patel told HitFix.
Patel found himself rediscovering Indian culture when a new rave trend – Goa trance raves, using Indian trance music – hit San Francisco in the mid-1990s. Soon, images of Hindu gods were on CD covers, and the sound of bells and chanting that Patel knew from his childhood could be heard all around the Bay Area, where Pixar is headquartered.
Patel realized that he wanted “to see these symbols in a way that works for me,” he told journalists gathered at Pixar Animation Studios last month.
With his books “The Little Book of Hindu Deities” and “Ramayana: Divine Loophole,” Patel found that way to explore his parents” culture. In “Sanjay”s Super Team,” little Sanjay, too, discovers a way to see the Hindu gods as superheroes in their own right.
Now, Patel isn”t lighting a candle for daily prayer like his father, but “I”m just as devoted as my dad,” he told HitFix. He has a different ritual. He”s sitting cross-legged on a mat and is chanting a mantra. I”m sitting on a Herman Miller chair clicking a button on my Macintosh computer illustrating a deity, illustrating an image of Hanuman in this act of devotion.My whole goal has just been to make it accessible and to present the stories and the mythology without the dogma. And if people want to take it as dogma, that”s there.”
Along with the especially personal story, “Sanjay”s Super Team” was a new kind of short for Pixar”s animators. The studio first mixed computer animation with old-school 2D styles with “Day and Night,” the short in front of 2010″s “Toy Story 3.” This latest short includes a sequence that Patel describes as a “co-mingling” of 2D and 3D techniques (seen in the image at the top of this post).
Also new for Pixar here: low horizon lines. Placing the “camera” much lower than they ever have before and using wide lenses made the Vishnu, Hanuman and Durga appear to be giants towering over little Sanjay.
As for whether Pixar will use those kind of angles again, the short”s producer Nicole Grindle told HitFix, “It depends on the story. We definitely showed what the tools can do.”
Once the short was complete, Patel”s colleagues at Pixar naturally wanted to know what his dad thought of the film.
“I had to explain to people that my dad”s never seen a Pixar movie,” Patel said. Watching TV and films just wasn”t something his father did.
But Pixar arranged to bring his father to the studio, where they screened “Sanjay”s Super Team” for him, seated beside his son. Pixar showed press a video of the conversation Grindle and Patel had with his father immediately after watching it. “My hope is coming true. So many joys I can”t explain,” he said tearfully.
“Sanjay”s Super Team” will screen with “The Good Dinosaur” when it opens on Wednesday, November 25.