When Pixar's Soul debuts on Disney+ on Friday, it's a film that makes history as the animation studio's first film to feature a Black lead character in Joe Gardner. Voiced by Jamie Foxx, Joe is a middle-school band teacher with a passion for jazz who gets a once-in-a-lifetime chance to follow that passion only to find himself quite literally at the beginning of everything -- The Great Before -- after one small misstep. Along the way, the film explores universal questions about what makes life worth living, and for Soul's story artists, being authentic to Joe's experiences as an African American is something they took very seriously.
Speaking with ComicBook.com earlier this year, story artist Michael Yates detailed the work that went into approaching Joe's story honestly and authentically.
"I think it was a number of things. I think we were really aware of that because, like with all of our films, we try to do as much research as possible. And I think the first thing was hiring Kemp Powers to be the writer, like he mentioned in his talk, a lot of Joe's life is similar to his own life," Yates said. "We also had an internal culture trust at the studio of African Americans that work together and we will come together and review different aspects of it and pitch different ideas for the character just to make it as authentic. And I guess even just like a wider berth, like it's not just one person's experience, it's trying to relate as many African Americans as possible."
He continued, "And then we also had external consultants, from musicians to more African American Studies people. I think it was just like a constant process. And then, even like me, and after working on the film, just putting ourselves into it and constantly thinking about family members and friends and everything. And really it was definitely on the top of mind on this project. And it was a great experience, I think."
And when it came to putting it all together, story artist Aphton Corbin explained it came together with a lot of "telling stories."
"I guess it was a lot of just like telling stories," Corbin said. "I think in another session Yates mentioned how like, for Libba, there was just time for us in the culture trust to be like 'just tell us about your moms. Give us some stories about your moms' and we just sat there and someone would say something really good and me and Yates would write it down for later and just build this library of stories and to make things specific so that it felt real. And, you know, a lot of us even though we all have different backgrounds we all share those common parts of our lives and the more specific we got the more relatable it would be and we would just literally craft from those stories into our own story and make this world of Joe's life."
You can check out the synopsis of Soul below.
Soul follows Joe Gardner (Jamie Foxx), 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.
Soul debuts on Disney+ on December 25th.