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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 Announces ‘Soul,’ The Next Pixar Film Directed by Pete Docter

We won’t have to wait long to see another new Pixar movie after Onward premieres next March. Disney just revealed that their “untitled Pixar movie” slated for June 19, 2020 (just a little over three months after Onward) will be called Soul, directed by Pete Docter (Monsters Inc., Up, Inside Out) and produced by Dana Murray (Lou).

Pixar hasn’t updated their “coming soon” section with information about Soul, but we have received a synopsis, starting with this Tweet from the D23 Twitter account:

Additionally, Disney released this tagline:

Ever wonder where your passion, your dreams and your interests come from? What is it that makes you … you?”

While reading these descriptions, my first thought was Doctor Strange, the Marvel movie that partially takes place in New York and features inter-dimensional realms that could be referred to as “cosmic.” I also wondered if this might be like Neverwhere, the novel by Neil Gaiman, where a mystical world exists underneath London. But after giving this some more thought, I’m pretty sure the journey they’re talking about simply begins in New York, then takes the characters “into” cosmic realms, as in space.

If that’s the case, I’m extremely curious how the cosmos might explain the idea of what makes someone who they “are.” We all have souls, but an explanation for what the soul literally is tends to be a more introspective, perhaps meditative process, not something external. In other words, how would we be able to explain human existence — presumably answering “life’s most important questions” — by going out into space? Think Interstellar, but perhaps with the whole “love is truth” thing toned down slightly.

I love the idea of Pixar returning to space, which they haven’t really done since WALL-E. There are so many stories they can tell around the universe, especially if alien creatures get involved, and if the whole “cosmic realms” definition is as fantastical as it sounds. I’m especially happy to see something so seemingly ambitious coming from Pete Docter, whose original drafts for Up were like something out of a swashbuckling cloud city fantasy.

As for the title poster, there’s not much to speculate on, yet. The color scheme is basic blue, with some orange and yellow flair. The “o” in the middle looks like it might be some sort of eye or pupil, but it would be a stretch to call this pattern anything “galactic” or “cosmic.” If anything, the font here suggests the film is quite playful, not as heady or operatic as the description might imply.

It’s also worth mentioning that Soul coming out so soon after Onward delivers its own set of challenges. Pixar has only tried to do two original movies in the same year once before, and it led to box office disaster. Inside Out was a huge hit, but audiences didn’t really bother with The Good Dinosaur, despite the film receiving a prime November/holiday release spot.

The gap between Onward and Soul is even smaller, which will make it difficult for Pixar and Disney to effectively market both movies within the same time frame. I get the intention, of course. Disney’s release schedule has morphed into positioning event movies that dominate every month of the year. So to them, it’s like releasing two Marvel Cinematic Universe movies within just a few months of each other. It works because the brand name is so strong.

But that assumes the Pixar brand name is strong enough to overcome both these films being non-sequels, and therefore new properties that will require more persuasive, noise-breaking advertising to get the word out. This is why Cars 3 releasing the same year as Coco wasn’t much of an issue (though to be fair, neither film was a major box office success by Pixar standards).

I worry about this because I don’t want to see original Pixar films fail at the box office. That affects how many resources get devoted to these films down the road, and if you’re sick of Pixar sequels coming out more often than originals, than you should be paying very close attention to the next few years, which will see several original films vying for attention in a crowded theatrical marketplace. That said, Pixar has one advantage that can’t be discounted. They have the Disney machine.

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Or just say hey on Twitter: @JonNegroni


A Pixar Without Ed Catmull Might Be A Pixar Without Disney

ed catmull

From Angela Watercutter at Wired:

Late Tuesday night, after 32 years, Ed Catmull announced he would be retiring at the end of this year. This is not sad news, though—it’s a chance to give Pixar a new future.

I’m late on this news because I was out of town and thus not blogging when the announcement broke (and somewhat silently from what I can tell). I didn’t even hear about Catmull’s retirement until a day after everyone else, and I’ve been stewing in my thoughts ever since.

In the cited piece above, Watercutter details how Catmull’s retirement is “an opportunity, not a loss.” And of course, Catmull himself claimed in his 2015 book Creativity Inc. that it was always his goal to leave Pixar with a strong legacy of lasting leadership (hence, Catmull is staying on as advisor through next July). It’s very Pixar-esque to look at a problem as an opportunity, and for now, I share in the optimism painting this upcoming era, but for a very different reason than even I expected.

It’s looking like Pixar is reclaiming its independence from Disney, albeit one promotion/departure at a time.

Go on…A Pixar Without Ed Catmull Might Be A Pixar Without Disney

Surprise, ‘Incredibles 2’ Is Pixar’s Biggest Box Office Hit Ever

incredibles 2

What does the success of Incredibles 2 mean for Pixar, Disney, and everyone else? Especially if they didn’t love the studio’s latest sequel? 

From Jessica Rawden at Cinemablend:

Previously, that accolade went to Finding Dory, a movie that grossed a little bit over $486 million domestically and a little over a billion worldwide. Incredibles 2 has been a much bigger winner domestically, making more than $602 million in North America and another $562.5 million worldwide. It’s current total has it at $1,164,826,913 (via Box Office Mojo), which means it has topped the movie that just kept swimming to become Pixar’s highest grosser. It’s also notable because a few weeks ago, the sequel was already the first animated movie to gross over $500 million domestically, and now it’s north of $600 million.

As Rawden mentions, Frozen is still the highest grossing animated film of all time, but Incredibles 2 is hot on its heels, just recently surpassing Minions.

Now, box office only says so much about the quality of a film, but it does paint a compelling picture, one that at this point can’t be denied. In order for Pixar to maintain their high standards with original content, they made the controversial decision to bank on sequels over a decade back. We now see Finding Dory and Incredibles 2 to be among the most profitable films of all time, animated or otherwise, and on the horizon there’s Toy Story 4 and a slew of original stories essentially funded by this box office success.

Go on…Surprise, ‘Incredibles 2’ Is Pixar’s Biggest Box Office Hit Ever

All Three of Pixar’s Billion-Dollar Movies Are Sequels. Now What?

Pixar

From Animation World Network:

Incredibles 2 became just the seventh animated film to cross the $1 billion mark at the global box office. It is Disney’s fifth animated and 18th-ever billion-dollar release and joins Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War as Disney’s third release to reach the $1 billion milestone this year.

Egregious success for Disney in 2018 aside, Pixar is now the first animated studio to release three films with $1 billion worldwide box office. And all three of these films are sequels: Toy Story 3Finding Dory, and now Incredibles 2. And yet people wonder why Pixar continues to make sequels in the first place. Money speaks louder than critics, I suppose.

Go on…All Three of Pixar’s Billion-Dollar Movies Are Sequels. Now What?

The Real Reason Why Pixar Keeps Making Sequels

sequels

I’ve commented on this topic a lot, particularly this week with the release of Incredibles 2, but Victor Luckerson seriously nails the rise of Pixar sequels with this piece on The Ringer.

How Pixar Became a Sequel Factory:

This decade has been different. Pixar’s next 10 films included six sequels or prequels, among them the newly released Incredibles 2. Its next movie is Toy Story 4, an addendum to a conclusive trilogy that no one asked for. In addition to its two sequels, there has even been a Cars spinoff, Planes, which recalls the low-budget direct-to-video sequels Disney pumped out in the ’90s.

Go on…The Real Reason Why Pixar Keeps Making Sequels

Review: ‘Inside Out’ Is More Than Some Feelings

I’ve written a more comprehensive review for Inside Out elsewhere, but I thought it would be fitting to craft a shorter review for this site’s readers, many of them being longtime fans of Pixar Animation Studios.

Yes, Inside Out is the latest Pixar feature. It takes you inside the head of an 11-year old girl and tells you her story through her five emotions: Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear, and Disgust.

Directed and produced by the team behind Up, this new story is all about the struggles of growing up. Its lessons aren’t cliche, however, in that the final message isn’t simply “do whatever makes you happy.” This is a staple of children movies that Inside Out rightfully tosses in favor of emotional truth.

inside out review

The movie doesn’t pull its heart-wrenching punches, but it’s also decisively clever and humorous. I haven’t laughed this much during a Pixar movie since Finding Nemo, which I consider Pixar’s funniest film ever. For that reason and others, I consider Inside Out Pixar’s overall best movie since Finding Nemo, and I’ve heard many say that the movie even surpasses that level of praise.

It’s easy to give Inside Out a little too much credit. Many of us have been yearning for an original Pixar feature of this caliber for years, and I’ll admit that I wanted this movie to be good. But I know myself, and I think I’m giving Inside Out the proper amount of praise based on both viewings I’ve had of the film so far.

Grade: A.

This is due to some minor nitpicks I have, including a missing antagonist for the movie and some of the film’s over-reliance on themes from other Pixar movies. If you’re curious about the score, then you can check out my full review on Moviepilot, where I discuss the film in detail.

Extra Credits

  • Yes, the movie will likely make you cry, so I suggest you pick a 3D showing that will hide your eyes.
  • Richard Kind voices Bing Bong, who has some of the film’s biggest laughs, next to…
  • Anger. Lewis Black killed it as my favorite emotion of the bunch.
  • I watched this movie in San Fransisco, which is where the movie takes place. This hyped up the setting for me, in that I recognized some of the locations they took right out of the map. I confirmed this with Ralph Eggleston, the art director, when I met him a few months back. Great guy.
  • LAVA is a fun short, especially if you love the ukulele as much as I do. For that reason, it’s a lot higher on my list of favorite shorts than some others, but I also didn’t love Blue Umbrella as much, so my opinion is weird.
  • Yes, this fits into the Pixar Theory. More on that later.

Inside Out was directed by Pete Docter and co-directed by Ronnie del Carmen. It was produced by Jonas Rivera and stars Amy Poehler (Joy), Phyllis Smith (Sadness), Mindy Kaling (Disgust), Lewis Black (Anger), Bill Hader (Fear), and Kaitlyn Dias (Riley).

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