You might not guess as much based on the name alone, but “Sanjay’s Super Team” is easily the most personal short film that Pixar has ever produced. The story that explores childhood imagination, making your parent’s proud, and the Hindu religion in bright, fun, and engaging fashion has now been nominated for an Academy Award in the Best Animated Short category. Plus, the film can now be viewed on Blu-Ray as part of the bonus features on The Good Dinosaur release.
Before their big night on Sunday, FanBoy had the chance to catch up with producer Nicole Grindle and writer/director Sanjay Patel who helped bring “Sanjay’s Super Team” to life:
FanBoy: Hi Nicole. Hi Sanjay, how are you guys?
Nicole Grindle: We’re good.
Sanjay Patel: We’re pretty good, excited to talk to you.
FB: Well I’m excited to talk to you. Congratulations on not only the film’s success critically and your Oscar nomination but also the fan reaction has been so extremely positive on our side at least. So, congratulations on a hit with the critics and the fans.
[Both]: Thank you
FB: So, I was curious because this short is, I think, different than most if not all other Pixar shorts in that it’s obviously grounded on a very personal story. Can you tell me how it came about?
SP: Maybe you can take this one Nicole.
NG: Okay, I’ll start and you pick it up. So, as you probably know, Sanjay has worked with Pixar for about twenty years. And about ten years into his career there he became interested in doing some work of his own on the side and became really interested in rediscovering his, you know, Hindu, south Asian, Indian background. And started reading about it and he ended up publishing his own independent graphic book, which was picked up. It’s a book called Little Book of Hindu Deities, and from there he did a few others. Which lead to a show at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco. Actually two shows. And then some folks at Pixar asked that he would do a show at Pixar. And what we have a little employee art gallery. And he showed the art there and it happened that John Lassiter came by and saw it and said Sanjay you have to make a film. And offered him an opportunity which is usually somewhat competitive at Pixar. Usually people pitch ideas and we boil it down to the winner.
Sanjay was invited, and he was surprised because it wasn’t something he was seeking, and he kind of resisted it actually. Or Sanjay I think you should pick up the story.
SP: Well sure. Thanks Nicole. Yeah, a couple of producers reached out to me and I think at this point I was very fearful of trying something like this because I hadn’t seen Pixar, you know, make anything like the things that I wanted to make. So I was convinced that it wasn’t possible. And so it took several producers and the fire the president of Pixar of course called me into his office. He had asked me what was going on and I was just so convinced that, you know, sort of cultural stories and the mythology just wasn’t appropriate for Pixar. To which he said, you know we’re always looking for great stories. And its one of the great stories we’re interested in. And so I realized that I was just making excuses and he was, you know, very much opened the door and I put together some presentations and John really responded to them.
So, in fact straight away he just … He saw what Pixar was giving him and that it was about a boy that was kind of ignoring the cultural stories from his own heritage. And then I told a little bit about how I grew up with my father. Every morning we worshiped in our different ways. He really responded to that, he really kind of gave me permission to tell my story.
So I think that would be the genesis of how, you know, we came to tell such a personal story.
FB: Has your father been able to see this?
SP: Yeah, yeah. We finally brought him up to Pixar and he actually videotaped watching the short and he responded so well to it. It was such a pleasure, actually.
FB: Yeah I think that’s one of the brilliant moments you did was, you know, putting a picture of you two both sort of past and present at the end. Really brought it home, you know, that this is founded in reality.
NG: Yeah, you know that was John Master’s idea. Partly I think because we were concerned that some folks would think we were trying to tell a story about Hinduism, and we wanted to make sure that people understood that this wasn’t, you know, a story about that religion at large. It was a story about a little boy and his father, it was Sanjay’s story. And as it turned out it felt so much more emotional which I think John also understood.
SP: Yeah, it was such a brilliant thing that he could attest to us. It certainly makes it way more personal. You really see that the real people behind the specifics of this particular story.
FB: I think the family story paired well with The Good Dinosaur. Were you guys happy that you were attached to that film?
NG: Yeah, I mean it’s something that we don’t really think about when we’re making our films. We’re just independently making our films but at some point it became clear that that’s the film we would be attached to. And it is sometimes amazing how either the films are a great contrast to one another or, in this case, they really compliment one another.
FB: So have you figured out what you’re going to say on Sunday if you win?
NG: Well, we have a plan… we may completely explode and, you know, just weep. I don’t know.
NG: We are really impressed with the other films that are in the category. We’ve gotten to know those film makers and so, you know, may the best film win.
SP: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely.
FB: Pixar is no stranger to the Oscars, but is it still an out-of-world experience when your film gets nominated for an Academy Award?
NG: Oh yeah. I mean, it’s certainly not something we take for granted. And, you know, there are those who walk among us who have had this experience before, but for us it’s completely new.
SP: Yes, I totally … It’s a very surreal experience so I’m not at all taking it for granted. It’s my first time. Nicole has been to the Oscars before but it’s all pretty new territory for me. So, it’s pretty mind blowing.
NG: But I’ve never gone as a nominee I should say.
FB: You talked about how this short kind of evolved from book, to art, to animation, what else do you hope to accomplish next now that you’ve mastered the short. Have you thought of maybe trying to get into features or direct a feature?
SP: Well, I mean, the nice thing is that both Nicole and I have been working in features for so much of our time at Pixar. So, there is features for, you know, there isn’t this urge that I simply feel. We’re very fortunate we’ve been able to work on shorts, and we’ve been able to work on features. So, I don’t know, I’m really just processing everything that’s been happening.
FB: Well, congratulations again. Best of luck at the Oscars.
NG: Thank you.
SP: Thank you.
“Sanjay’s Super Team” can currently be found on the Blu-Ray release of Pixar’s The Good Dinosaur.