Disney•Pixar’s has released a brand-new sneak peek for their upcoming existential animated feature, Soul. The film features a predominantly Black voice cast led by Jamie Foxx. In it, Foxx voices Joe Gardner– a middle-school band teacher who gets the chance of a lifetime to play at the best jazz club in New York City. Unfortunately, one small misstep takes Joe to a fantastical place where souls get their personalities before they enter the earthly plane.
The extensive video was actually part of a panel for the Essence of Culture, where Dr. Johnnetta Betsche Cole spoke to the director and co-screenplay writer Pete Docter, and co-director co-screenplay writer Kemp Powers about Pixar’s progress of becoming a more inclusive animation studio that celebrates the diverse voices within its staff.
“I can testify that the colleagues at the studio own the responsibility to make sure that their films tell the stories of all of us,” Cole said. “We’re the diverse people and cultures of our country and our world.” Some of those shared may be shared, and others may be specific.
Soul is the first Pixar film that highlights our community, and as we know so well, my sisters and my brothers all, representation matters,” Cole added. “That is when it’s thoughtful and respectful.”
Soul is a four-year production journey of discovery of jazz music and Black culture for the people over at Pixar. Producer Dana Murray said it all started with a simple idea. It was shortly after Inside Out was released in 2015, and after the success of the film wore off, Docter found himself wondering if there was more to life than just making animated movies. He mentions how he could already “see” his son from the moment he was born. “I was thinking, how did that happen? Where did that come from,” he asked himself. “Well, it’s because each of us is born with a soul. Our soul is really the center of who we are. It’s our essence of us. It’s our makeup of what passions and inspirations we have.”
Docter wanted to have those same ideals instilled into Joe. Additionally, he wanted to have a relatable character that audiences could root for. So they decided to go with a musician. And they wanted to go with jazz. “Jazz is the perfect representation of what we were trying to say in the film,” he said. “If our main character plays jazz, or as Dr. Cole calls it, Black improvisational music, we felt our main character needed to be Black.”
It’s refreshing thing to hear that the respective people of color should voice characters of color. To capture the Black experience and culture into a film like Soul, respectfully, Docter brought Kemp Powers on board to co-write and co-direct the screenplay.
While Powers saw a lot of himself in a character like Joe, the story had to transcend his own experience. “While people from my background ethnically and from my city might recognize a lot of elements of Joe’s life and my life, I don’t represent every Black man’s experience,” he said. “For the process of making Soul, it’s really important we invited a lot of other Black voices into the fold in the creation of not just Joe but all the characters in the film.”
Murray then talked about partnering up with several consultants that consisted of Black creatives from within their staff at Pixar, cinematographer Bradford Young, musicians like Herbie Hancock, and Terri Lynn Carrington. Even Batiste, Questlove, and Daveed Diggs, all of whom are involved in the film, acted as consultants to get the authentic Black experience. They would watch story reels and provide notes on the characters, sets, and story, as well as review the animation.
“It was really important that we didn’t just invite people to rubber-stamp the work that we were doing,” Powers said. “These folks came in to be a huge part of everything we did and go with us on the full journey of creating this film and making as authentic and truthful as possible.”
We’ve covered how Soul looks like it could be a huge celebration of Black culture, as noted by the creatives behind the film, its consultants, and the cast like Foxx, Questlove, and Diggs. Other voice talents include Phylicia Rashad and Angela Bassett.
There will be two teams of musicians to provide the score. As aforementioned, Batiste offers Jazz score for the real world, while Reznor and Ross will score the music for the world of “The Great Before.”
“I wanted to make some themes that tied into the ethereal nature of the Otherworld while still being in the Earth realm, and vice-versa when they would meet Trent [Reznor] and Atticus [Ross],” Batiste said. “I would sometimes blend the two worlds musically.” He added that it was a joy and an honor to be part of Pixar’s latest project.
Here’s the official plot synopsis for Soul:
What is it that makes you…YOU? This November, Pixar Animation Studios’ all-new feature film “Soul” introduces Joe Gardner (voice of Jamie Foxx) – a middle-school band teacher who gets the chance of a lifetime to play at the best jazz club in town. But one small misstep takes him from the streets of New York City to The Great Before – a fantastical place where new souls get their personalities, quirks and interests before they go to Earth. Determined to return to his life, Joe teams up with a precocious soul, 22 (voice of Tina Fey), who has never understood the appeal of the human experience. As Joe desperately tries to show 22 what’s great about living, he may just discover the answers to some of life’s most important questions. Directed by Academy Award® winner Pete Docter (“Inside Out,” “Up”), co-directed by Kemp Powers (“One Night in Miami”) and produced by Academy Award nominee Dana Murray, p.g.a. (Pixar short “Lou”), Disney and Pixar’s “Soul” opens in U.S. theaters on November 20, 2020.
Soul is set to open in theaters November 20, 2020.