A soul looks down on Earth and has decided that life isn’t worth living. Another soul arrives in The Great Before and doesn’t want to stay. There’s a lot that can be said about a film that poses this question in 2020.
Up until a few hours ago, the best that I could tell you about Soul was that I’d seen the first 30 minutes. I was excited to see where it went and for everyone else to experience it. It turns out that the powers that be at Disney have since decided to forgo what was initially going to be a theater only experience in favor of releasing the film exclusively on their streaming platform, Disney+.
In what seems to be an effort to avoid what was a perceived debacle with Mulan, The House of Mouse will be releasing the film on their streaming platform. That’s sans a premium fee, to all those who already subscribe to the service on 25 December of this year. That’s great news for those who were excited to see the film. Though, were wondering if the original theatrical release date would hold, in light of the pandemic? So without further ado, what will you be getting?
Relatively quickly, it’s apparent that Soul is one of Pixar’s most ambitious films. While Inside/Out questioned the complex nature of emotions and their interactions, Soul asks the question, “is all this living worth dying for?” As a studio that’s primarily geared towards children, existentialism is quite a topic to tackle. In the words of Marty McFly, “this is heavy”. Fortunately, Pixar put their Doc to the task. Pete Docter, who previously helmed Inside/Out was all too eager to answer the question. While work on this project only started 4-5 years ago, according to Docter, it was decades in the making.
“It started with my son—he’s 23 now—but the instant he was born, he already had a personality,” says Docter. “Where did that come from? I thought your personality developed through your interaction with the world? And yet, it was pretty clear that we’re all born with a very unique, specific sense of who we are.”
Moving beyond inspiration and into location, the film seems to go a good job distinguishing between this world and the next. There’s a stark contrast in the way New York is portrayed, via the cool, pastel colored Great Before. While we do get establishing shots of the city, the concrete jungle is filmed in a much more intimate way, choosing to forgo the monstrous skyscrapers, for welcoming brownstones. Despite being on the brink of Fall, the warm color palate is incredibly inviting and a contrast to the usual hustle and bustle we associate with the City That Never Sleeps. This is likely due, in no small part, to the co-director/writer of Soul, Kemp Powers (One Night in Miami, Star Trek: Discovery). Powers is a native New Yorker and injected quite a bit of himself into the film’s protagonist, Joe Gardner (Jaime Foxx).
Our protagonist, Joe Gardner, is a middle school band teacher. Joe’s been passionate about jazz since his father took him jazz club as a child. For the remainder of his life, he was hooked and wanted to make that passion his career. We learn, throughout the course of the 30 minute preview, the circumstances that constantly cause him to defer his dream. It may be hard for some viewers, because I imagine that they’ll see similarities to their own lives. On the cusp of making his dream a reality, a literal misstep throws all that into jeopardy.
In the film, viewers will be exposed to distinct parts of the non corporeal world. The Astral Plane, the Great Beyond and The Great Before, were souls get their personalities. That last area is where Joe meets our other protagonist, 22 (Tina Fey). In the course of preparing for their time on Earth, some souls are paired with mentors who will, hopefully, motivate them to go to Earth. In attempting to coax 22 to go to Earth, the precocious soul was paired with historical greats that have lead extraordinary lives. 22 felled them all and collected their name tags as trophies when they quit.
In Joe, she meets someone that was never intended to be her mentor. In short order, they strike a bargain that will rid 22 of Joe and get him back to Earth. From that preview, their quest takes them all over the non corporeal plane, which, according to Docter, they researched extensively,
“We were lucky enough to bring in all kinds of, um, religious experts, and personality experts, and shamans, and, I mean, we-i-we really ran the gamut on, um, the-gaining knowledge from people all over.”
Music Speaks to the Soul
“This is where it all started. This is the moment where I fell in love with jazz. Listen to that! See the tune is just the starting point, y’get me? The music is just an excuse to bring out the YOU.”
Ultimately, the heart of Soul, is music and Joe decided relatively early on that that would be the avenue he would use to get through to 22, but this wasn’t always the case. Throughout development, Joe went from being an actor to a stock broker and a few things in between. The team settled on music, not only because they felt it was more inherently noble, but also because of the clip below with music legend, Herbie Hancock.
After watching the clip, the team knew that Joe couldn’t be anything other than a jazz musician. Docter described the clip as the perfect metaphor for life, “what we are given and what we do with it.” I think my only disappointment in learning about the development of Gardner into a musician is that the instances where Foxx did play his own music didn’t make it into the final film, which would have been quite a treat, given his pedigree.
Having just seen One Night in Miami, which Powers wrote, and Docter’s previous work on Inside/Out, I’m excited to see how this movie turns out. The topics Pixar have chosen are particularly heavy, but they’ve had a string of films, most notably Toy Story 4, Coco and the aforementioned Inside/Out that give me hope for their ability to convey complex philosophy. Coupled with the pairing of Jamie Foxx and Tina Fey, I think Disney+ subscribers are in for quite the holiday treat.
But what do you think?! Are you excited to see Soul? Have thoughts on it coming to Disney+? Let us know in the comments below or join us on the Discord server at the link below.
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