Pete Docter isn’t just the Chief Creative Officer at Pixar Animation Studios – he’s also one of the most talented filmmakers in their line-up. Now, the director of Monsters Inc., Up, and Inside Out (the latter two took home Best Animated Film at the Academy Awards) is back with Soul, a mysterious new movie set to open next year. An original Pixar movie without a number in its title and Docter steering the ship? Tell us more, please.
Thankfully, we did learn more about this film at the D23 convention, where we were finally able to put some context to the incredibly vague synopsis.
Soul, one of the two original Pixar movies set to be released, is gearing up to be one of the most high-concept and cerebral films from the studio to date. The film will answer questions like “Why am I here?” and “Where did I come from,” Docter said at the D23 panel. Docter was joined onstage by producer Dana Murray and newly revealed writer Kemp Powers to tease new details and reveal new footage from Soul, which follows a frustrated, jazz-loving New York teacher named Joe who gets separated from his soul.
“Have you ever noticed that babies already have a personality?” Docter asked. That’s because, in Soul, each baby is trained at the You Seminar — a school-style workshop in which each soul is given their passion and dreams. Once they are ready, the soul graduates onto a person.
The protagonist of Soul is Joe Gardner (voiced by Jamie Foxx), a middle school band teacher who has been unable to pursue his true dream of becoming a jazz musician. Rounding out the cast include Joe’s loving mother Liva, voiced by Phylicia Rashad; a jazz drummer named Curley, voiced by Questlove from the Roots; and a new soul named 22, voiced by Tina Fey. Jon Batiste will be writing original jazz music for the film, while Oscar-winning composers Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross (The Social Network) will be scoring the film
In Soul, Joe has been playing since he was 3 years old and has long dreamed of playing at the Half Note Club in New York City. After many years of fruitlessly trying, he finally gets his big break. But this is where things go wrong in the most abstract, metaphysical sense, as shown in the new clip that debuted at D23.
Just Announced: @iamjamiefoxx and Tina Fey will lead the cast of #PixarSoul, coming to theaters June 19, 2020. Here’s a first look at their characters, Joe Gardner and 22, and a new piece of concept art. #D23Expo pic.twitter.com/Ls8JDvOsCe
— Walt Disney Studios (@DisneyStudios) August 24, 2019
Soul Footage Description
In the clip, Joe runs through the streets of New York City, making his way to a jazz restaurant to play piano. Joe believes his purpose on this planet is to play, declaring, “It’s what I was meant to do, and nothing’s gonna stop me.” When he finally gets the gig of his dreams, Joe gets on his cellphone to brag, narrowly avoiding getting hit by cars and construction, only to fall down a sewer opening. When he opens his eyes, he’s surrounded by blackness and finds himself back in the You Seminar and himself colored all blue. “If this place looks familiar, it’s because you’ve been here before,” someone tells Joe, as the place becomes filled with pavilions where different personality traits are held.
Here, Joe meets a new soul named “22” — the last digits in a number in the billions. Because 22 doesn’t yet have a person, she looks like a big green creature with a big head, no body, and white buckteeth. Joe discovers that in order to return to Earth, he must travel to the impossibly vast cosmic realms. Through this journey, he will learn what it’s like to have a soul.
Soul sounds like it deals with some weird abstract concepts that could rival Docter’s brilliant work with the emotions of Inside Out and recall the beautiful designs of Coco. And indeed, Fey promised that Soul will be “real emotional.” The diversity of the cast, and the sheer musicality of the film (with Reznor and Ross teaming up with Pixar for the first time!) makes Soul one of the most promising new Pixar films as of late.
Here’s the original synopsis for Soul:
Ever wonder where your passion, your dreams and your interests come from? What is it that makes you… YOU? In 2020, Pixar Animation Studios takes you on a journey from the streets of New York City to the cosmic realms to discover the answers to life’s most important questions.
Soul opens in theaters on June 19, 2020.
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