A high school music teacher on the verge of a big break finds himself taking an unexpected detour through the afterlife in Soul, the latest animated feature by Pixar. Based on the trailer, it looks like Soul will have a similar existential emphasis on depicting highly abstract conceptions of human consciousness and the afterlife as Pixar’s Inside Out (2015) and Coco (2017).
Directed by Pete Docter (Inside Out, Up), Soul features the vocal talents of Jamie Foxx, Tina Fey, Phylicia Rashad, Daveed Diggs, and Questlove. Per the official synopsis:
Joe Gardner (Jamie Foxx) is a middle-school band teacher who gets the chance of a lifetime to play at the best jazz club in town. But one small misstep takes him from the streets of New York City to The Great Before—a fantastical place where new souls get their personalities, quirks, and interests before they go to Earth. Determined to return to his life, Joe teams up with a precocious soul, 22 (Tina Fey), who has never understood the appeal of the human experience. As Joe desperately tries to show 22 what’s great about living, he may just discover the answers to some of life’s most important questions.
Docter told Entertainment Weekly last November that the film is “an exploration of, where should your focus be? What are the things that, at the end of the day, are really going to be the important things that you look back on and go, ‘I spent a worthy amount of my limited time on Earth worrying or focused on that’?”
Apparently, the people at Pixar chose to make the main character a musician rather than a scientist (the initial plan), because they “wanted a profession audiences could root for” and thought a scientist “[didn’t feel] so naturally pure as a musician’s life.” (Musicians are cool, but it must be said that this is a very unfair, false characterization of scientists.)
The trailer opens with a cute blue blob-like representation of Joe’s soul falling through pitch-black darkness and landing in a mysterious place. There are a few other blue blobs there to greet him, and he introduces himself. “Today started out as the best day of my life,” Joe tells them after a successful audition to play at the Half Note. But while excitedly relating the news on his phone, he falls into an open manhole. “Must have been sudden for ya,” one of the blobs says sympathetically. Joe soon realizes that he and a bunch of other souls are set to enter the Great Beyond (presumably heaven) via a long staircase, but he panics, insisting he’s not done living his life.
And then he falls off the celestial stairway and lands in the Great Before. (Docter is clearly playing with geometric dimensions in this film, which makes for some cool animated sequences.) That’s where he meets 22, who really, really doesn’t want to go to Earth. “You’re missing out on the joys of life. Like pizza,” Joe insists—only to discover that 22 can’t possibly understand this, given that everyone in the Great Before are all incorporeal, with no sense of smell or taste, for instance. And that “slice” of pizza Joe “eats” in the Great Beyond just, um, pops right out the other end.
When Joe discovers he’s not technically dead—merely in a coma in a hospital bed—Joe asks 22 to help him get back to his earthly body. He just needs to succeed before the entities who monitor the “soul count” catch on as to why their count is suddenly off. “Is all this living really worth dying for?” the skeptical 22 asks. I’m betting that Joe (and Pixar) answers with a resounding yes.
Soul opens in theaters on June 19, 2020, unless the coronavirus pandemic intervenes.
Listing image by YouTube/Pixar