Joe Gardner, a middle school music teacher, has dreamed of performing jazz music onstage, and gets a chance after impressing other jazz musicians during an act at the Half Note Club. But, an accident separates Gardner’s soul from his body and is transported to The Great Before, a world where young souls develop personalities and traits before being sent off to Earth. There, Gardner must cooperate with souls at The Great Before, such as 22, a soul with a bleak view on life, in order to return to Earth before it is too late.
- Jamie Foxx as Joe Gardner/Mr. Mittens
- Tina Fey as 22
- Questlove as Curly
- Phylicia Rashad as Eleanor Gardner, Joe's Mother
- Daveed Diggs as Paul
- Angela Basett as Dorothea Williams
- Donnell Rawings as Dez
- Rachel House as Terry
- Alice Braga, Richard Ayoade, Wes Studi, Fortune Feimster, and Zenobia Shroff as Jerry
- Graham Norton as Moonwind
In January 2016, it was announced that Pete Docter, head of Pixar, was working on a new film.
In June 2018, it was announced that Docter was planning to complete his film despite being appointed Chief Creative Officer at Pixar after John Lasseter's departure. In June 2019, Pixar announced a new film titled Soul with Docter directing and Dana Murray producing, with a synopsis released on Twitter about a cosmic journey through New York City.
Murray said that the film will "take audiences to a world where no one’s ever been, well, for a long time", while co-writer/co-director Kemp Powers said that it is "completely different" to Docter's previous films. Powers also said that the film will answer important questions in "a really fun way". Tina Fey also contributed to the screenplay, having helped to write her character's lines.
Pixar chose to portray the film's main character as a musician, because they wanted a "profession the audience could root for", and settled for a musician after trying for a scientist, which "didn't feel so naturally pure as a musician's life". Docter described Soul as "an exploration of, where should your focus be? What are the things that, at the end of the day, are really going to be the important things that you look back on and go, 'I spent a worthy amount of my limited time on Earth worrying or focused on that'?".
On August 24, 2019, Jamie Foxx, Tina Fey, Questlove, Phylicia Rashad and Daveed Diggs were announced as starring in the film. On March 17, 2020, Angela Bassett announced she was in the cast. On April 13, John Ratzenberger joined the voice cast. On May 4, 2020, Powers revealed that Richard Ayoade joined the film's voice cast.
The filmmakers animated the souls featured in the film in a "vaporous", "ethereal", and "non physical" way, having based their designs on definitions about souls given to them by various religious and cultural representatives. Docter described it as "a huge challenge", as the animators are "used to toys, cars, things that are much more substantial and easily referenced", though he felt the animation team "really put some cool stuff together that's really indicative of those words but also relatable".
During the 2019 D23 Expo, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross were revealed to be composing the film's score, while Jon Batiste will be writing jazz songs for the film.
The film was originally scheduled to be released in the United States on June 19, 2020, but due to the coronavirus pandemic, the film's release was delayed to November 20, 2020. The film's teaser trailer was released on November 7, 2019. The first full trailer was released on March 12, 2020. On September 15, 2020, Variety reported that Disney was considering releasing the film on Disney+
- Joe Gardener is the first African American main protagonist of a Pixar movie, and the second person of color to be the main protagonist after Miguel in Coco.