ALL THAT JAZZ
SFX|Holiday Special 2020
THE CO-WRITER AND DIRECTOR OF PIXAR’S LATEST ANIMATED ADVENTURE TELLS US WHAT WENT INTO MAKING SOUL
ADAM TANSWELL

IN COCO, AUDIENCES WERE TAKEN on a mystical adventure to the Land of the Dead. In Inside Out, we were transported inside the mind of a young girl. In Ratatouille, we discovered French cuisine through the eyes of a rat. So what have the creative geniuses at Pixar cooked up next? In Soul, we follow a music teacher from New York City as he stumbles into a cosmic world called The Great Before. This otherworldly domain is where new souls get their personalities, quirks and interests before they go to Earth. It’s there the protagonist of the story meets a precocious soul called 22 (voiced by Tina Fey), who has no desire to leave the ethereal plane she currently calls home.

The initial idea for the movie was percolating in the mind of director and co-writer Pete Docter for more than two decades. “Soul explores the idea of where the ‘inner us’ comes from,” he tells SFX. “It’s an exploration into what makes us who we are as people, because we’re more than just our bodies. This is something I’ve been thinking about ever since my kids were born, which was more than 20 years ago. When my kids were born, they already had a personality. Where did that happen? How did it happen? My kids were both raised in the same environment, but why do they look at the world differently? It’s fascinating.”

What is it that defines us? That’s the question at the heart of Pixar’s latest release, and although it’s rather a lofty question, that doesn’t mean Soul is burdened with themes that are overly profound. Sure, there are some deep questions to be asked, and maybe some tears will be spilled – but Soul is also barmy, bewildering and laugh-out-loud funny. It’s up there with the Pixar greats.

NO AVERAGE JOE

Work on Soul officially commenced four years ago, but there was a huge mountain to climb in terms of pulling the story together. “When I started on the project in the early part of 2016, one of the biggest challenges involved trying to find a main character who was engaging and interesting; someone you wanted to root for,” explains Docter. “When you see the film, you’ll notice that it’s an artist’s journey that has a lot to do with passion and purpose, as well as the fact that life doesn’t always go the way you expect it to go. It’s taken us a long time to get here.”

The protagonist in question is Joe Gardner, a passionate music teacher voiced by Jamie Foxx. Joe is a jazz pianist who dreams of a professional music career, but his big break is squandered when he falls down a manhole and ends up in The Great Before.

“When we meet him, Joe barely keeps his dream of being a musician alive,” reveals Docter. “The ember is still glowing, but he has to supplement his income as a teacher. He always assumed that’d be temporary until he landed a full-time gig as a professional musician – but then his life changes forever.” Alongside Foxx and Fey, there are a host of international stars involved – including Graham Norton as a psychedelic sign-twirler named Moonwind and Richard Ayoade as a counsellor called Jerry. Plus there are all the classic Pixar Easter eggs you’ve come to expect in their movies.

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