Pixar’s prosperous Golden Era ended with a dull thud in the one-two punch of Cars 2, a sequel nobody wanted to the one Pixar movie nobody loved, and Brave, an uninspired movie (the highest crime that a work by Pixar can commit) that felt more like Disney Princess-lite than the scrappy animation upstart’s usual boundless fantasy. Since those early 2010s failures, the studio’s output has been spotty. Its franchising of Monsters Inc, Finding Nemo and The Incredibles with a prequel and some sequels, respectively, went as well as could be expected, and Coco made all of us weep in our seats. But there’s been nothing to match those early days of glory, outside of the ruminating philosophy of Inside Out.
As though the studio recognises that their 2015 weepie was by far the best thing they’ve done in the last decade, they’re looking to enter the 2020s with a bright, bold, reliably weird fantasy story, Soul. In what will be the first instance of the studio featuring an African-American character in the lead, the story follows Joe Gardner, a piano teacher who dreams big.
His ambition is to perform jazz for an adoring crowd, a dream that he almost fulfils before an accident catapults his soul – manifested as a cute little blob with eyes, arms and legs – into another plain of reality called the You Seminar, where souls develop a passion and then get placed into the body of a newborn. It’s quite the predicament, especially as Gardner also has to help out a particularly passionless soul called 22 whilst dealing with his newfound bodily separation.
As with all things Pixar, this is primed and ready to cause adult crises everywhere. What they’re positing is the question of whether your essence of being even exists without a passion or a purpose. Doubtless they’ve tapped into an anxiety shared by many adult professionals who wish they could go back and pursue something they really love. But Soul also, crucially, looks to be wrapped in a sprightliness that’s now become the reason to come back to their movies.
With the danger of stating the obvious, it also looks a lot like Inside Out. From the idea of abstract personal attributes being personified as anthropomorphic beings, to the design basis for both the “soul blobs” in this and the main characters in Inside Out, the studio’s aim is clear: to recreate the devastating magic of what is essentially a fantastical human drama.
They’ve got the cast to match up to it. Gardner and 22 find their voices in the unlikely pairing of Jamie Foxx and Tina Fey, and there’s a mini musical supergroup brewing in the cast list. Rapper Daveed Diggs, of clipping. and Hamilton fame, is joined by none other than Questlove, whose signature afro comb – permanently embedded in his afro – you might recognise from appearing on Jimmy Fallon’s Tonight Show as drummer for The Roots. And what could make a Pixar musical fantasy featuring Questlove any better-sounding than it already is? The music will be composed by winning-streak duo Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, currently enjoying airtime with their ace score for Sky Atlantic’s Watchmen. Perhaps we have a new Pixar classic on our hands.
Pixar’s Soul will be released on Disney+ on the 25th of December 2020