Pixar’s latest dazzling film, Soul, is a film about being true to yourself and pursuing your dreams at all costs. Co-directed by Pete Doctors and Kemp Powers, Soul follows Joe Gardner (Jamie Foxx), a musician and reluctant part-time middle school music teacher. Though Joe has worked tirelessly on his craft for years, his big break has continued to evade him. One day, everything changes for him when he’s offered the gig of a lifetime, playing piano in jazz legend Dorothea Williams (Angela Bassett) ‘s band.
Over the moon with excitement despite his non-nonsense mother Libba’s (Phylicia Rashad) apprehension, Joe takes a tumble down a New York City manhole, and finds himself in The Great Before. In this place, souls get their personality and interests before heading to Earth.
Determined to find his way back to Earth, Joe reluctantly takes 22 (Tina Fey) under his wing. Having lived in The Great Before for centuries, 22 has no interest in Earth, instead, she is content to terrorize all of the mentors who have been assigned to help her.
Ahead of Soul’s debut Christmas Day debut on Disney +, Shadow and Act spoke with the co-directors and cast about the film’s messaging and its place in cinematic history as the first Pixar film with a Black lead.
“[Soul] is giving me the opportunity to look cool in front of my youngest daughter, Foxx laughed. “She said, ‘Dad, you finally made it. You’re finally in a Pixar film. All of this other stuff you’ve done doesn’t mean nothing.’ It was just great. The whole experience and the fact that it was music, jazz, and New York City. It was just a great character who feels like just around the corner; his dreams are going to come true. When he gets around that corner, it’s a different dream; it’s a different thing. To be a part of something like that which is monumental and groundbreaking is in the arena of what Soul is about.”
For Bassett, embodying Dorthea was about looking at real-life Black female jazz trailblazers.
“I remember going to jazz clubs and seeing women who headed their own band,” Bassett said. “I remembered Betty Carter and how she headed that. It was a small quartet but the excellence that she demanded. She would stop during the middle of a set she would encourage the drummer or the pianist to rise, and rise and rise. It was a lesson in perfection and perseverance right there in front of you, and it was exciting. It was thrilling to see. So thinking back on the likes of her and Dorothy Donegan and Shirley Scott, those artists and the women taking the lead. You knew when they came up and through it wasn’t an easy place for a Black female jazz musician to inhabit.”
Watch the full interview with the cast and crew of Soul below, via Shadow and Act Live around the 16:15 mark:
Soul will debut on Disney + December 25, 2020.