CS Virtual Set Visit: Meet Joe Gardner in Pixar/Disney+’s Soul
Earlier in October, ComingSoon.net shared with our readers some of what we saw during our virtual tour of Pixar’s latest fantasy adventure Soul starring Jamie Foxx and now we continue our sharing of what we learned for the upcoming Disney+ release, as well as an exclusive featurette introducing our readers to the film’s protagonist Joe Gardner. The featurette can be viewed in the player below!
Meet Joe Gardner
Once the filmmakers had settled on needing to have a musician as the foil character to the uninterested-in-life 22 (Tina Fey), more specifically a jazz musician, one entrenched in “black improvisational music” as one of their consultants Dr. Johnnetta Cole put, the creative group of producer Dana Murray and co-writer/director Pete Docter (Inside Out) came to the conclusion that their main character needed to be Black and looked to co-writer/co-director Kemp Powers (One Night in Miami) for it.
“When I came on to the project almost two years ago, the film was definitely still in pretty rough form,” Powers recalled. “In particular, Joe was a character who needed a lot of fleshing out. Thankfully Joe, as we envisioned him, and I had a lot in common and I realized that in many ways Joe was me, so I was able to use a lot of my own personal experiences to inform writing the character. In terms of how similar we are, I mean, how old is the character? He’s 45, what a coincidence, I’m also in my mid-40s. Joe lives in New York, which is my hometown, though Joe is from Queens and I’m from Brooklyn, and all Brooklynites know Brooklyn is better [chuckles].”
Given his own past as a music critic and musician, even naming his son after the jazz legend Charles Mingus, Powers noted that diving into the world of jazz to further develop Joe “really came naturally” while also noting he “didn’t have to do this alone,” as he and the “internal culture trust” of other African-American Pixar employees would get together frequently to discuss their various experiences and how they could infuse them into their central character.
“We had lots of meetings and discussions about Joe, where he grew up, the important people in his life, what made him tick and then I reached into my own past and my own life experiences and put that down on paper,” Powers explained. “One place I spent a lot of time before the pandemic was the barbershop. So, we took our crew there so they could see and feel what it was really like to be in a barbershop. We also went to New York for research trips. One place we visited was a public school in Queens, New York, since that’s where Joe is the teacher in the film, and while we were there we met Dr. Peter Archer, an amazingly passionate middle-school jazz band teacher. And of course, since Joe plays in a New York jazz club, at least that’s his aspiration, we just had to visit a bunch of clubs in Manhattan, and so that was a really great experience as well.”
“The research and my personal experience definitely helped develop Joe in the story,” Powers continued. “I always said to Pete and Dana the film had to transcend one person’s life. It’s very important to understand that I don’t represent every single black person’s experience, it’s important on this journey that we reached out further, and that started at home. We partnered with a number of consultants on this film who we kept close throughout the entire process, this wasn’t a rubber stamping situation. They were part of the development the entire time. To make sure that our representation was as genuine as possible, we also turned to tons of experts outside of Pixar, including many music teachers and working jazz musicians from New York City and right here in Emeryville. Pete had already mentioned Dr. Johnnetta Cole earlier, Bradford Young, the incredible cinematographer, Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson and Daveed Diggs, two of the performers in the film, also served as cultural consultants. So, we took all that research and input from our consultants and we put it into the script which we would then hand over to our story team.”
As to the reason for why it’s taken Pixar this long to develop an African American-led story, with some past entries such as The Incredibles, Toy Story 3 and Inside Out featuring POC performers in supporting roles, Docter noted that it has “been way too long” but finding that he “doesn’t know that we really have a good answer.”
“You know, we’re always looking to reflect as much of the world out there as we can, and we’re happy that it’s finally happened,” Docter chuckled. ‘That we are representing a part of the population that just hasn’t had as much voice in our films up to now.”
Soul stars the voice talents of Jamie Foxx, Tina Fey, Phylicia Rashad, Ahmir Questlove Thompson, Angela Bassett and Daveed Diggs and features original jazz music by globally renowned musician Jon Batiste and a score composed by Oscar winners Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross (The Social Network).
Previously scheduled for theatrical release on November 20, 2020, Soul was named an official selection of the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year along with multiple upcoming festivals including the British Film Institute’s London Film Festival this Sunday.
What is it that makes you…YOU? Pixar Animation Studios’ Soul introduces Joe Gardner (voice of 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 (voice of 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 is directed by Academy Award winner Pete Docter (Inside Out, Up), co-directed by Kemp Powers (One Night in Miami) and produced by Academy Award nominee Dana Murray, p.g.a. (Pixar short Lou).
The animated film will release on Disney+ December 25.