The Disney organization is offering America a heartwarming and upbeat Christmas movie this year. It’s the latest release from Pixar Animation Studios, and it’s not—repeat, not—coming to a theater near you. (More on that later.)
About the movie
Soul is an abstract, computer-animated narrative about a New York middle-school band teacher named Joe Gardner (voiced by Jamie Foxx). One night, Joe goes to the opening of a music venue called the Half Note Club. He impresses the other musicians gathered there and is given a chance to fulfill a long-standing dream: performing jazz music onstage.
Unfortunately, an accident—he steps into an open manhole—separates Joe’s soul from his body. Normally, he would be headed for the Great Beyond, but this time he’s actually traveling to the Great Before, where he finds himself in the “You Seminar,” a place where souls develop their own unique personalities before being sent to Earth. In order to return to Earth before his body dies, Joe is brought into contact with some “souls in training.” He becomes a mentor to a character named 22 (Tina Fey), whose outlook is tainted by a gloomy perception of the concept of life.
Director Pete Docter (Up, Monsters Inc.) says of his ambitious project, “The world can be an exhausting and frustrating place—but it’s also full of unexpected joys, even in seemingly mundane things. Soul investigates what’s really important in our lives, a question we’re all asking these days. I hope it will bring some humor and fun to people at a time when everyone can surely use that.”
The creative folks behind Soul decided to make the primary character African-American, given how closely African-Americans have been connected to jazz history. Kemp Powers, one of three scriptwriters for Soul, is also Pixar’s first African-American co-director. (Powers based several elements of Joe on his personal life.)
To correctly portray the African-American culture, Pixar consulted with, among others, iconic musicians such as Herbie Hancock, Jon Batiste and Questlove. The film’s score was composed by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross (both of Nine Inch Nails). Jon Batiste arranged a new version of the Impressions’ 1963 classic song “It’s All Right.”
Soul had originally been scheduled for a June 2020 release, but with the pandemic, the Disney organization decided to premier it exclusively on Disney + on Christmas Day 2020. Replete with colorful visuals and gentle wisdom, Soul will be offered free to all Disney + subscribers. It will play theatrically in countries where movie theaters have reopened and that don’t have Disney +.