December 24, 2020

THE CULTURE WARS ARE A ROUT:

Pixar's Soul: 'This film is really gonna heal a lot of things for people' (Clarisse Loughrey, 12/24/20, Independent)

"Having a culture trust, having so many voices, it slows the process down," says Powers. "It makes the process harder. But that's good, because a lot of it is born of laziness - this idea that you just want people to rubber-stamp what you're doing. That's how you end up making these egregious errors again and again." And it's vital, too, he stresses, not to treat the Black experience as some singular entity. His colleagues in the culture trust represented all ages, genders, and regional backgrounds. "Our tastes were wildly different," he says. "And we disagreed on so many different things." Pixar plans to use the same process for all its upcoming projects, even those where its director is able to offer a personal perspective - that includes Enrico Casarosa's Luca, about a little boy growing up in an Italian coastal town, and Domee Shi's Turning Red, about a Chinese-Canadian girl who involuntarily turns into a giant red panda.

The studio also reached out to various religious leaders during the design process for the Great Before, hoping to land on some universally agreed-upon concept of the human soul. "Of course, most people say it's invisible," Docter says. "It's non-physical and ethereal and that was not very helpful. But we tried to nod to that in the design of the characters as sort of foggy and fuzzy and less solid than the human characters on Earth." For the look of the place, the team avoided drawing from any single culture. Their references were clean and utopian - the World's Fair, Disney's Epcot theme park, and Swedish sculpture.

Docter will often repeat the same story about Miles Davis, shared by jazz legend Herbie Hancock in an online masterclass - an anecdote he claims was a major source of inspiration for Soul. One night, when the two were playing together, Hancock hit a bum note in the middle of Davis's trumpet solo. The musician barely reacted. He took a breath, improvised, and delicately shaped the tune so that Hancock's mistake no longer sounded like one. A great jazz musician learns to roll with the punches. The story turned out to be an oddly prescient one for the makers of Soul, after the film's theatrical release was repeatedly delayed in response to the pandemic, then cancelled altogether - it will now debut on Disney+ on Christmas Day.

"We've settled in a place of just feeling super grateful that the film is coming out, and that we have Disney+ as a platform to reach people around the world, so that people can see it safely," Murray says. "Because it's pretty easy to focus on what we don't have right now." There were seven weeks left of production when California's Bay Area, where Pixar's studios are located, first went into lockdown. Animators took their equipment home and, somehow, the team were still able to finish the film on time. For the film's closing credit tune, a cover of The Impressions' "It's All Right", Batiste recorded each instrument in his own living room.

The effort was worth it - Soul is a film that takes on a life of its own in a year like 2020, when it's more important than ever to treasure the small, quiet pleasures that life brings us. "Pete was the one who was saying, 'You know, on my deathbed, I'm not going to look back and go like, man, it was really cool to meet that person at the Oscars,'" says Powers. "That's not where we go in our darkest moments. We go back to moments with people we love, experiences that we cherish. And I think, with the film, we were just trying to capture a little bit of that."

No matter what you think makes your culture unique, we can Disnefy it and make it American and universal.  

Posted by at December 24, 2020 8:05 AM

  

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