‘Soul’: Why Pixar’s 2020 Release Will Give Us All the Feels

Ever since Toy Story, Pixar Animation Studios has developed a track record virtually unmatched in the industry. Although not every film has been a runaway success, the vast majority of Pixar’s 21 films have become instant classics. So whenever Pixar announces a new project, high expectations come with the territory.

To that end, 2020 will be a big year for the studio. In March, Pixar releases Onward featuring the voices of Tom Holland and Chris Pratt. Then, just three months later, audiences will discover Soul. By all accounts, the latter film is shaping up to be an emotional rollercoaster.

'Soul' director Pete Docter at Disney’s D23 EXPO
‘Soul’ director Pete Docter at Disney’s D23 EXPO | Jesse Grant/Getty mages for Disney

What is ‘Soul’ about?

According to Entertainment Weekly’s first look, the film follows Joe Gardner (voiced by Jamie Foxx), a music teacher and aspiring jazz musician in his own right. However, just as the potential of his big break looms, Joe suffers an accident that separates his soul from his body. In a race against time, he must find a way back to his body, with the help of another soul named 22 (voiced by Tina Fey).

Pixar is known for bringing intangible concepts, everyday objects, and fantastical creatures roaring to life. Toys, cars, rats, and robots have all gotten such treatment. And Soul — looks like it will similarly build a world around the very concept of souls.

The film also marks a renewed focus on original stories for Pixar. Five of the studio’s last eight productions — including last year’s Toy Story 4 — have been sequels. If Soul lives up to Pixar’s last original, 2017’s Coco, audiences might be in for something special.

Pixar asks the big questions (again)

The story of Soul largely centers around the “You Seminar,” where souls develop their passions before being delivered to newborn babies. Such a system gives the film the ability to somewhat literalize the great beyond, building on our own belief systems in an imaginative way. But it’s just the latest example in Pixar’s long-standing tradition of challenging audiences.

With nearly every film, Pixar has made a powerful — and sometimes profound — statement about life, humanity, and what makes both worthwhile. But the studio has never so blatantly tackled mortality before. Seeing as Soul quite directly involves one man’s struggle to cling to life, we expect the film has something to say about an individual’s need to live with passion.

Soul‘s title, of course, has a double meaning when it comes to the world of jazz. Yet, much like Coco uses Miguel’s musical aspirations for larger thematic reasons, this film probably has its eye on the biggest question of all: what is the meaning of life? And, of course, fans are wondering how Soul will fit into the possibly interconnected web of Pixar films.

Just what Pete Docter ordered

Of course, that’s not to say Pixar’s Soul will be overly didactic or lack the fun of previous releases. In fact, balancing laughs and heart is essentially Pixar’s specialty. More specifically, director Pete Docter has a solid track record of his own.

Soul is Docter’s fourth directorial effort for Pixar. He previously helmed hits like Monsters Inc., Up, and most recently, Inside Out. The latter two in particular rank among Pixar’s most gut-wrenching and emotionally charged films to date.

The fact that Docter made time to direct Soul, despite being named Pixar’s chief creative officer in 2018, is a testament to his own passion for the project. We still don’t know a whole lot about what to expect from the film. But audiences can be sure its combination of existential curiosity and Docter’s own filmography will leave a lasting impression. Bring tissues. Just in case.

Soul hits theaters on June 19, 2020.