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Pixar reveals new look at ‘Soul,’ underscores importance of Black representation

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Jun 27, 2020

Pixar unveiled a fresh look at Soul Saturday with a sneak peek centered around the film's main character, Joe Gardner (Jamie Foxx). A middle-school band teacher with ambitions of becoming a professional jazz musician, Joe gets his big break, only to fall down an open manhole. His soul is accidentally sent to the Great Before, a place where personalities are born. There he meets 22 (Tina Fey), a renegade soul that doesn't see much point in being paired with a body on Earth.

After two teaser trailers that gave us a taste of the metaphysical elements of the story, the latest footage places a greater emphasis on the human side of things, highlighting both the soulful music and absolutely gorgeous animation. Take a look below and have your breath taken away.

Aside from its exploration of the afterlife, Soul also gets its name from the fact that the movie is deeply rooted in the rich worlds of jazz and African-American culture.

"Our soul is really the center of who we are, it's the essence of us," co-director/screenwriter Peter Docter (Up) said during a virtual discussion about the project for the Essence Film Festival. "It is our makeup of what passions and inspirations we have. We wanted our main character in the film to have those passions born into him as well. We wanted something we could all relate to ... We hit on a musician and we thought, 'That's gonna be fun to see onscreen.' Jazz was really the perfect representation of what we were trying to say in the film, and if our main character plays jazz ... we felt our main character needed to be Black."

"I realized in many ways, Joe was just like me. I used a lot of my own personal experiences to inform me as I was writing the character," added co-director/screenwriter Kemp Powers. "But as specific as Joe's story was to me, it had to transcend my own experience. Because while people from my own background ethnically and from my city might recognize a lot of the elements of Joe's life and my life, I don't represent every single Black man's experience. [During] the process of making Soul, it was important that we invited a lot of other Black voices into the fold, in the creation of not just Joe, but all the characters in the film."

Powers and producer Dana Murray revealed that the team brought on consultants like an "internal culture trust" of African-American Pixar employees; rapper Bradford Young; musicians Herbie Hancock and Terri Lyne Carrington; supporting voice cast members Questlove and Daveed Diggs; and Jean-Baptiste, who shares composing duties with Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross.

"My goal was really to create something that felt authentic, as if it were a real jazz band, while also being accessible to all ages," Baptiste said of the score, which pivots between the improvisational world of New York City's jazz scene and the celestical playground of the Great Before. "I wanted to make some themes that tied into the ethereal nature of the other world, while still being in the Earth realm and vice versa. When we would meet, Trent and Atticus and I would sometimes even blend the two worlds musically."

Check out the full discussion (introduced by Dr. Johnnetta Betsch Cole) below:

Soul heads to theaters everywhere Friday, Nov. 20. Phylicia Rashad and Angela Bassett also lend their voices to the movie.


 

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