Why Pixar’s next project is a major step in the right direction
Earlier this week, Pixar announced Sanjay’s Super Team, the animation studio’s first ever project to star a human, non-white lead. Directed by long-time Pixar animator Sanjay Patel, the seven-minute short draws on the artist’s Indian heritage and his experiences growing up with immigrant parents — and we’re super excited to see it.
From what we know so far, Sanjay’s Super Team starts with a young Indian boy eating cereal and watching cartoons in an old motel, inspired by the Lido Motel off Route 66 that Patel’s parents bought when he was a kid and still own today. After his father calls him over for meditation and prayer, Sanjay quickly grows bored, and begins to daydream about an “ancient, Hindu version of ‘The Avengers,’ with the gods appearing like superheroes,” according to the LA Times. (We’re so in.)
“It took me a long time to feel safe with my identity,” Patel told the LA Times. “But [Pixar Chief Creative Officer] John Lasseter felt strongly about celebrating the personal side of the story.”
The short promises to be both fun and meaningful, and the importance of Pixar’s first non-white lead is huge. According to a 2013 study from the University of Southern California on the top 100 grossing films of the year, “the percentage of underrepresented characters in animated movies remained below 13%.” We need to change this — and the recent success of DreamWorks’ Home (which starred the animation studio’s first human, non-white lead since 1998’s The Prince of Egypt) proves just how achievable that change is, and how open viewers are to seeing it.
From what we can tell, Sanjay’s Super Team provides a wonderful portrayal of what it’s like growing up caught between two cultures — a story not told often enough given how many people experience it. Nowhere is this lack as obvious as in children’s movies, and likewise, nowhere is it as important.
“If I could, I would go back to the 1980s and give my younger self this short,” Patel continued. “I want to normalize and bring a young brown boy’s story to the pop culture zeitgeist. To have a broad audience like Pixar’s see this . . . it is a big deal. I’m so excited about that.”
All kids deserve to have a hero that they can see themselves in (both cartoon and otherwise), which is why diverse representation in children’s media is so essential. As the daughter of an immigrant myself, I can’t even imagine how excited I would have been to see my experience on the big screen as a kid. If the short helps just one kid who feels marginalized to feel understood and proud of who he or she is, it will have made a huge difference. Normalizing such an alienating experience is pivotal — and films like Sanjay’s Super Team contribute to making that happen.
The short will debut at the Annecy International Animation Film Festival in France this June, and its theatrical release will be in November, played before Pixar’s feature The Good Dinosaur (which also happens to be Pixar’s first feature film directed by a non-white director, Korean-American artist Pete Sohn). We can’t wait.