Oscar-nominated Disney / Pixar movie Soul centers on Joe (voiced by Jamie Foxx), a middle school band teacher who longs to become a jazz musician. Disney hide caption
The Oscar-nominated film Soul is about passion, purpose and the meaning of life – topics that are not normally covered in animated films.
The film centers on Joe, a middle school band teacher who feels unfulfilled with the ambition to be a full-time jazz musician. The day he makes the biggest gig of his career, Joe almost dies – but then gets the chance to return to his body if he can figure out the meaning of his life.
Pete Docter, co-writer and co-director of the film with Kemp Powers, says the film was inspired by the emotional turmoil it experienced after it was written and directed from the inside to the outside.
“With … so much success in [that] Film, I asked myself: Why don’t I have the feeling that my life is all wrapped up in a beautiful arch and dissolved? Why didn’t it fix everything? “Says Docter.
The soul has produced its own success. The film won the Golden Globe Award for best animated picture and was nominated for three Academy Awards. But Powers, who is also up for an Oscar for his adapted script One night in Miamisays that soul is actually meant to challenge conventional notions of success and failure.
“We tried to help not just Joe, but the entire audience understand that this is not about winners or losers and that everyone’s life has value,” says Powers. “That was a strong driving force from the start.”
Docter says the message of the film is that life has meaning beyond personal ambition.
“The goal of the film is really to say that we’re enough already,” he says. “We can all walk out the door and enjoy life without achieving or proving anything. And that is really liberating.”
On Pixar, Powers approaches to work on the film
Powers: It’s pretty funny because obviously when I got the call from my agent that Pixar was interested, They were looking for a writer who could help them with a project. The first thing my brain said was, “Hmm, I guess the story must be about black people.” I know that can sound cynical, but look, that’s just the reality of this business, this industry. … It wasn’t long ago – and if I say not too long ago, I am speaking just three or four years ago – where it was very possible, if you happened to be white, to create and tell a story about anything you wanted. And no one would urge you to consult with people from this community, let alone invite them and be partners.
While it’s easy to go the cynical route, I actually saw it as a really interesting opportunity because when I flew over to Pixar and sat down and saw the nuggets of what was going to become soul, I really fell in love with the story Pete was trying to tell. And it was a story that felt like about me, and it was a story that really wasn’t about race. That was one of the things that got me really, really excited. … I tell people, yes, soul is a movie [where] Most of the characters are black, but it’s not a “black” movie. We’re trying to tell this universal story through a black’s specific prism. And I think that was a really brave decision that I enjoyed the opportunity to try to carry out.
On Powers’ feedback on an early role by soul
Powers: In the early roles [Joe] seemed like the least interesting person in the movie. … Part of it, I believe, was because there had been such extreme caution and fear in doing things that might offend or upset someone, that really not much had been done instead [on the character]. I didn’t know anything about the guy. I really didn’t know anything about his family. It seemed like Joe was just a very, very lonely man who didn’t know anyone and had no friends. And that just meant that his life had to be filled. And of course, being at Pixar is just nature, whether you’re a director, designer, or artist, you use your life as fuel. So it was very easy for me [to] say, “Oh, he’s supposed to be a 45-year-old black man from New York. What a coincidence! That’s me!” [And then] to fill many of these gaps with my personal experiences.
About exploring representations and beliefs about the soul for the film
Doctor: I spoke to priests, rabbis, and experts in Islam, Hinduism, and as many of the major religions as we could find to see how these different traditions look at the soul, the afterlife, and the world beyond our physical forms. What we found was that most of them have a lot to say about what happens after we die – but very few talk about what happened before. So that meant we were free to make things up, which is my favorite place. …
Joe’s soul (right) is paired with 22, a lost soul voiced by Tina Fey. Disney hide caption
When you ask, “What is the soul?” Most of them speak of the soul being ethereal, steamy, non-physical and invisible. We wanted to point this out in our design – not only of the souls themselves, but also of the world in which they live. And interestingly, the first draft of the film was … a version that plays entirely in the “Great Before”. [a fantastical place where new souls exist before they go to Earth]. There is no such thing as earth-based stuff. It was about watching life just through these memories and these visualizations of the world and trying to get that other soul to leave [to Earth]. But the further we developed it, the more we realized that we need to interact with it if we are to talk about what makes life worth living. We have to get our hands dirty – smell, taste, touch, all the things a soul cannot do.
For the representation of “lost souls” in the film
At various points in our lives and careers, we have all been … “lost souls” based on our definition of it. Because when you find something that you enjoy and are passionate about and that you are actually pretty good at, it’s so easy to additionally hide behind that thing and use it to not clash with so many other elements of the To deal with life.
Powers: As we made this movie, we discussed that at different points in our lives and careers we were all … “lost souls” based on our definition. Because when you find something that you enjoy, that you are passionate about and that you are actually pretty good at, it’s so easy to take the extra step of hiding behind that thing and using it to not mess with deal with so many other elements of life. This is why it was so important that when we introduced the idea of the lost soul – that someone could be lost – but then he could be found. … I’ve definitely found myself based on our own definition of [as] a bit like a lost soul, someone who – in order not to face all the different elements of life – is just [loses] me in my work.
At screening soul for children
Doctor: On Soul we started to worry, is that too much? Will children be able to keep track of this? So we attracted an audience full of children. It was probably the second most terrible screening because they are calm. Children are calm. They don’t laugh a lot. So you say, “Oh, we’re dying! We’re dying!” But we’ve found over the years that, especially when they’re seeing something for the first time, they usually just soak it up and ingest it. … But then we ask them questions like: “Did you understand?” And what seems to be happening again [and] Again, parents will say, “This movie was too complicated for children. This is not suitable for children.” And then the kid sitting right next to you will sit and explain the whole movie better than I could. You get it all. You are very smart.
Heidi Saman and Seth Kelley produced and edited this interview for broadcast. Bridget Bentz, Molly Seavy-Nesper, and Beth Novey customized it for the web.