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Everything We Just Learned About Pixar’s ‘Soul’

In less than 10 months, a new original Pixar film will hit theaters, and we’re only just starting to get a detailed glimpse into what Soul is really about.

The film was announced this past June with scant explanation. We’ve known since then that Pete Docter would direct the film with Dana Murray as producer, and the vague synopsis hinted at a story about “what makes you YOU” and “a journey from the streets of New York City to the cosmic realms to discover the answers to life’s most important questions.”

Aside from false rumors about the voice cast, we’ve had almost nothing else to go off of when it comes to Pixar’s followup to Onward, which will release next March. Soul comes out June 19, just three months later, which is the same release date as Docter’s last film, Inside Out. And that’s not the only clear comparison between both films, as we now know a bit more about Soul coming out of the D23 Expo.

First, there’s the voice cast (for real this time). Jamie Foxx voices Joe Gardner, a middle school teacher with “a deep passion for jazz.” Tina Fey voices 22, a “soul” who has been stuck at the “You Seminar” for 100 years. Questlove voices Curly, a drummer in Joe’s band. Phylicia Rashad voices Joe’s mother. And Daveed Diggs voices Paul, Joe’s neighborhood nemesis.

Here’s a new description of the film by The Wrap:

The film will explore the You Seminar, an academy where souls learn how to build passion within themselves before graduating and inhabiting a newborn child. Foxx plays Joe Gardner, a man with a deep love for jazz, who is stuck as a middle school music teacher. After years of longing to perform onstage rather than teach, Joe finally gets his big break after an open mic at the Half Note Club that impresses the other players so much that he gets a gig.

But as he celebrates, an accident separates Joe from his soul, and his soul travels back to the You Seminar, where he meets other souls-in-training that help him find his way back to Earth. Among them is 21, played by Fey, a soul who has spent eons at the You Seminar and has a dim view of human life.

I have to admit, I feel a little bit silly for not making the connection between the movie title Soul and “soul music” (aka jazz) when we first heard about this film taking place in New York City. Also, The Half Note Club is a real location there, but other media reports have called this setting “The Blue Note” or just “The Half Note.” Another discrepancy is disagreement over whether or not the character is named “22” or “21,” but “22” is likely the correct name.

The premise above certainly rings of familiar Pixar, as it centers around two mismatched characters having an existential adventure in a fantastical setting. Only this time, both the setting and the themes are existential. This movie is essentially “full Pixar,” or as Docter put it at D23: “who would make a cartoon about metaphysics?” Jacob Hall from SlashFilm has also noted that Docter asked the question: “Have you ever noticed that babies already have a personality?”

For another spin on the synopsis, here’s a version by Polygon:

The main character is Joe Gardner, a middle school band director with a love of jazz. He dreams of playing at the Half Note, New York’s prestigious jazz club. Then, after 20 years of trying, he gets his wish. In a trailer, we see him emerge from a subway and rehearse on the piano at the club. When he nabs the gig, he’s beaming, and walking back down the city street … where he falls down a manhole and dies. His soul separates from his body and goes to the great beyond.

The film revolves around You Seminar, a otherworldly location where souls are trained with quirks, abilities, and interests. “All the things that make you, you,” Doctor said at the presentation. Once ready, the souls graduate from You Seminar.

Finally, here’s Jacob Hall’s take on the clip shown at D23, writing for SlashFilm:

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.

A Pixar film with a ton of music also needs some talented musicians behind the scenes, so it’s heartening to see Jon Batiste from The Late Show with Stephen Colbert writing the jazz songs, plus Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross are composing the score. Just listen to The Social Network soundtrack for an introduction into what those two are capable of when it comes to film scores.

Overall, Soul appears to hit all the right notes for an original Pixar film with heartfelt ideas and lovable characters. It also happens to be the first Pixar film to be led by a black character, and much of the cast we know about so far includes people of color, similar to 2017’s Coco.

I’m still feeling a bit cautious about the film’s quick release after Onward, but my hope for now is that the film was simply delayed from 2019 due to the shakeup of John Lasseter’s departure from Pixar (and Pete Docter’s subsequent promotion as his replacement). We can certainly see from its release date that Pixar and Disney have high hopes for Soul being another Inside Out. That is, an original animated film beloved by critics and audiences alike in a heated summer full of sequels and franchises.

Soul will be born on June 19, 2020.


What do you think? Comment below or @me on Twitter.

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Disney+ Is About To Be Your New Home For All Things Pixar

Is that a good thing?

We’re still a few months away from the full release of Disney+, a brand-new streaming service that will start at $6.99/month (with just one ad-free option, similar to Hulu). It’s like Netflix, but with tons of newer Disney and Pixar films, short films, new original content, and the entire Disney Vault.

I’ve mentioned the service plenty of times before on this site, but it’s worth reminding just how enticing this service will be for Pixar fans. Next year, Disney+ will debut Monsters at Work, a spinoff series of Monsters Inc. with some of the original voice cast returning (of course, Mike and Sully aren’t the main characters).

Upon launch, it looks like some new short form content from Pixar will debut, including Forky Asks a Question, a series of clips highlighting the confusion and curiosity behind everyone’s favorite utensil from Toy Story 4. Later, the service will release Lamp Life, a short film about what Bo Peep was up to in between Toy Story 2 and Toy Story 4. It’s probably safe to assume Disney+ will also contain Pixar’s entire collection of short films and maybe even SparkShorts.

But what about all the movies? The service will include 18 out of 21 Pixar films at launch, excluding the three most recent ones: Toy Story 4, Incredibles 2, and Coco. According to Disney, those films will come along later. And there will be two more exclusive streaming series in addition to Monsters at Work, but we don’t know much about those yet.

It’s easy to compare Disney+ to Netflix, but it will probably feel more like the experience of using Hulu, especially if you pay for the version with ads. It’s also strange to see Disney fully embracing Pixar as one of its crucial content branches, perhaps on the level of Marvel and Star Wars. Their in-house-mouse animation arm is still intact of course (lest we forget the release of Frozen 2 this year), but Pixar’s healthy catalogue of beloved characters and stories is looking more and more like a contained universe of branded content Disney wants to expand even further, perhaps in an attempt to bridge the gap between entertainment for kids and adults.

And we can already see the ways in which Disney+ might be impacting Pixar as an animation studio. Toy Story 4 didn’t have a short film attached to it, breaking tradition, and though this was downplayed by the filmmakers as incidental, it’s easy to wonder if resources for short films are being stretched to other places. Pixar isn’t producing the content for these new original series, but they are contributing, apparently.

This makes me curious. Would you rather see a short film from Pixar, or a season of a Pixar-adjacent show on Disney+? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below, because until we see one of these shows, any guess is as good as mine.


A Great Podcast Can Come From Anywhere

Photo by Mohammad Metri

The rise of independent podcasting, explained by someone who lived it.

My podcasting story is similar to most, in the sense that it is mostly…unique. A lot of people start different podcasts of various shapes and sizes, usually with similar goals in mind. But they’re all working within the same ecosystem of a burgeoning, on-demand streaming platform that has taken over traditional radio in the last decade.

These days, everyone seems to have a podcast, or they at least want to start one. Celebrities have podcasts. Corporations have podcasts. Even characters from fictional movies have podcasts.

Recently, The New York Times did an entire story on whether or not we’ve reached “Peak Podcast,” whatever that means:

Like the blogs of yore, podcasts — with their combination of sleek high tech and cozy, retro low — are today’s de rigueur medium, seemingly adopted by every entrepreneur, freelancer, self-proclaimed marketing guru and even corporation. (Who doesn’t want branded content by Home Depot and Goldman Sachs piped into their ears on the morning commute?) There are now upward of 700,000 podcasts, according to the podcast production and hosting service Blubrry, with between 2,000 and 3,000 new shows launching each month.

For context, there were approximately 270,000 podcasts available just four years ago. In short time, podcasting has developed into a mainstream pastime, and one that is still seeing new adoption overseas. How did this happen, and so quickly?

The answer depends on the type of podcast you’re curious about. I can’t speak much about podcasts owned by corporations, or shows that exist on major networks. Their machinations are removed from my own experience. But I can speak to the phenomenon of seemingly ordinary people gathering around a microphone and reaching an audience far larger than they anticipated.

In other words, I can probably best explain the rise of podcasting by sharing my own story with the medium, and how it’s changed and grown over the years. Six years, to be exact.

Go on…A Great Podcast Can Come From Anywhere

How Bo Peep Became a Great Role Model For Young Girls in ‘Toy Story 4’

From  Alexandria Ingham, writing for Hidden Remote:

Throughout the movie, we watched Bo take charge. She gave orders, figured out solutions, and looked out for herself and others. There was still the story of lost love, but she didn’t just follow her heart. Bo proved that you can be smart, adventurous, and caring all at the same time — and these are all positive traits in a young girl.

In the lead up to Toy Story 4, I had a hard time wrapping my head around the writing for Bo Peep, a character who had been relegated to the background in previous films, now elevated to a major role in what is essentially a romantic comedy starring her and Woody.

Ingham perfectly outlines the core traits that bring out the best in this previously underwritten character, without making her feel like a totally different entity. This is still Bo Peep, voiced by Annie Potts. She’s just grown up a bit, as have we.

While Woody and the gang had been so fearful of being lost toys, Bo found a freedom within it. There was excitement, and she shared all about the fun of the adventure. She offered this message that it’s okay to step out of the nest. It’s scary, sure, but there are so many reasons to head out and explore. You’re missing more by restricting yourself.

You can read Ingham’s full piece here.

Do you think Bo Peep is a good role model for girls (and boys?)


The Box Office Limitations Of ‘Toy Story 4’ Spell Mixed News For Pixar Fans

toy story 4

Toy Story 4 is doing well at the box office. Three weeks into its release, the sequel has earned over $650 million worldwide, with a good chunk of that being made domestically (which means higher profits for Disney and Pixar).

Soon, Toy Story 4 will surpass Finding Nemo and Inside Out at the domestic box office, but it might only just barely catch up to Toy Story 3. It stands no chance of making the same amount as Finding Dory and Incredibles 2, which are two of the highest grossing animated films of all time.

This is a bit…unexpected. Box office prognosticators like myself predicted a much stronger showing for Toy Story 4, one that would at least keep pace with Finding Dory. Why? It’s a summer release, Toy Story is a beloved franchise, reviews have been stellar, and it’s been almost a decade since the last film. These were all factors that contributed to the massive box office success of Incredibles 2 in 2018 and Finding Dory in 2016.

The same just isn’t happening for Toy Story 4.

To reiterate, the film is doing extremely well by Pixar standards. Just not Pixar sequel standards (disregarding Cars 3, of course). The film should be outperforming Toy Story 3, taking into account inflation. What was $1 billion in 2010 amounts to a far greater sum in 2019. Pixar made Toy Story 4 with the hopes that it would make more profit, not about the same or slightly less.

It’s hard to pin down what’s precisely contributing to this underperformance. It’s been a weak year for animated movies overall at the box office, especially sequels. How to Train Your Dragon 3, The Lego Movie 2, and The Secret Life of Pets 2 have all done far worse business than their predecessors, even with good reviews on their side.

No matter the exact reason, at least one thing is clear. Pixar and Disney now have to reckon with the reality that the sequel gravy train isn’t as long-lasting as they might have hoped. New Pixar sequels won’t necessarily be huge moneymakers, for reasons that are admittedly nebulous and unpredictable. There’s a ceiling to how many movies Pixar can deliver within a single franchise before moviegoers get bored. Audiences just don’t seem to be as invested in a fourth Toy Story as they would be a fourth Avengers film, apparently.

But this is good news for Pixar fans. By and large, we want more original films from the studio, and the underperformance of Toy Story 4 lends credence to artists who want to challenge resourcing decisions. They can now argue that a slew of original Pixar films is badly needed in order to refresh their existing IP in the years before we get an Incredibles 3 or Inside Out 2, which are probably the only sequels most audiences would be curious to see anytime soon.

That said, there’s also a downside to Pixar rethinking their lineup of films in the latter half of the next decade (keep in mind, their next four films are already originals). Yes, they have new incentive to focus on original films because sequels to existing sequels simply aren’t guaranteed hits, but this unearths a new problem. What if Pixar stops making as many original films that don’t have to be franchise starters?

Put more simply, Pixar might stop making films like Coco and WALL-E because stories like that are too standalone in a cinematic landscape where franchises practically rule the box office. Why green light the next Ratatouille or Up when more resources and effort can be put into the next Incredibles, which is a film with so much spectacle, you can’t help but want it to continue.

My worry is that the next truly great original idea for a Pixar film might be tossed aside in favor of something more financially feasible. Or worse, an original idea might be tampered with in order to fit a sequel paradigm outside its intended draw. This is all speculation, and we simply don’t know what Disney and Pixar are truly considering for their next creative output. But we know they’re paying careful attention to what is making money at the box office right now. And they’re not films with satisfying conclusions. They’re films that never really end.


So, ‘Toy Story 4’ and ‘Avengers: Endgame’ Have the Same Ending

toy story avengers

This post contains spoilers for Toy Story 4 and Avengers: Endgame…obviously.

At the end of Avengers: Endgame, one of the series protagonists chooses to end a long career of service to his community of friends and allies — including a longtime rival known for having multitudes of gadgets — after fulfilling one last mission in order to finally renew a life with the woman he loves, whom he thought was lost to him forever, thus saying goodbye to his old life and bestowing an old-fashioned symbol of his heroism and leadership upon someone who isn’t a white male.

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OK. And?

At the end of Toy Story 4, one of the series protagonists chooses to end a long career of service to his community of friends and allies — including a longtime rival known for having multitudes of gadgets — after fulfilling one last mission in order to finally renew a life with the woman he loves, whom he thought was lost to him forever, thus saying goodbye to his old life and bestowing an old-fashioned symbol of his heroism and leadership upon someone who isn’t a white male.

It’s Been a Long, Long, Time.

Let’s break that down in case you don’t believe me.

At the end of [Avengers: Endgame/Toy Story 4], one of the series protagonists [Steve Rogers/Woody Pride] chooses to end a long career of service [being an Avenger/being Andy’s favorite toy] to his community of friends and allies — including a longtime rival known for having multitudes of gadgets — [Iron Man and the Avengers/Buzz and the other toys] after fulfilling one last mission [saving half of all existence/saving Forky]…

…in order to finally renew a life with the woman he loves [becoming lost in time in order to be with Peggy Carter/becoming a lost toy in order to be with Bo Peep], whom he thought was lost to him forever [his main duty to save the world forced them apart/his main duty to be there for Andy forced them apart]…

…thus saying goodbye to his old life [serving the needs of the world/serving the needs of a kid] and bestowing an old-fashioned symbol of his heroism and leadership [the Captain America Shield/the Sheriff Woody badge] upon someone who isn’t a white male [Sam Wilson the Falcon/Jessie the Yodeling Cowgirl].

Toy Story 4 and Avengers: Endgame released in theaters within two months of each other.


Can Science Explain Why The Toys In ‘Toy Story’ Are So Physically Strong?

toy story

Cassidy Ward, writing for SyFy Wire:

Woody is up to the task at every turn, hefting enough emotional weight to reduce a grown man to weeping and equally heavy physical ones. He carries a doll several times his size, one-handed, while he zip-lines over a carnival. He lifts an RC car while suspended from Slinky.

And Woody’s not the only one.

These toys exhibit feats of strength more impressive than any Strong Man at the carnival. Which causes us to wonder: How exactly do they do it?

It turns out toys have a couple of advantages over humans and other animals.

This entire piece is an absolute blast of a read. Ward dives into the scientific explanations behind muscle fatigue and why the toys could be vessels of virtually unlimited power, similar to the Androids of DragonBall Z. This is truly nerdy content, and I’m so happy it exists.

With bodies constructed of cotton and fabric or plastic, they have their own biological constraints to deal with (constraints we can’t begin to understand. Like, how do they convert energy into movement at all?) but muscle fatigue isn’t one of them. Once a toy initiates a movement, via whatever processes they use to accomplish that, they could feasibly keep it up indefinitely.

You can read the entire article here (I highly recommend it).


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