We try to make films that are intelligent enough for kids, but simple enough for adults,” says Pixar’s Pete Docter, an impish grin plastered across his face.
The sentence reads as both whimsical and profound – exactly the kind of tagline you’d imagine was cooked up in the animation studio’s headquarters, in the same rooms where it was decided that toys and cars could talk, rats could cook, and robots could fall in love.
It’s also where, in 2017’s Coco, they came to the conclusion that no one truly dies as long as they exist in another’s heart; and, in 2015’s Inside Out, that happiness cannot thrive without sadness.
In Pixar’s latest,Soul, directed by Docter, the studio seeks to answer the biggest question of them all what is the meaning of life?
When a wannabe jazz pianist, Joe Gardner (Jamie Foxx), dies on the day he finally gets his big break, he tumbles down a manhole and kicks the bucket.
His soul, transported to the Great Beyond, is left to wonder what are the ingredients of a life well-lived? Soul is, undoubtedly, Pixar’s most ambitious film.
But, considering the studio’s track record, it was never really at risk of alienating its audience, which is both young and old.
“It’s usually the adults that say something like ‘My kid’s not going to understand that or they’re not ready for that,’” says producer Dana Murray, speaking over Zoom.
“But kids ask really big questions and have really big things going on in their heads already.
” It’s never been the case that Pixar’s storytellers have to talk down to their audience; they explore what matters to them most and trust that they’ll find the right way to bring everyone else along for the ride.
Joe Gardner is Pixar’s first Black lead – and Jon Batiste, who provided the film’s jazz score, believes wholeheartedly that “it’s really gonna heal a lot of things for people”.
The musician, known for his protest music, sees a grander purpose in films like Soul, that celebrate Black voices and Black talent.
“I do believe that excellence is a form of protest. Joy is a form of protest,” he explains.
“People who are against your best interests are really trying to diminish your humanity. And this film is so loving and compassionate and humane.
It presents people with something that is undeniable.
” The way Soul openly embraces Black culture on screen is both a celebration and a declaration.