Since release on Christmas Day, Pixar’s Soul has been a huge hit for Disney+. Exploring the afterlife, and the abstract idea of a ‘soul’, but in the kind of delightfully approachable way that Pixar excel at, Soul went through a lot of different versions before settling on the gorgeously animated wonder that audiences recently had the pleasure of experiencing. Producer Dana Murray, along with directors Pete Docter and Kemp Powers, have now revealed Soul’s original ending, and it would have left Jamie Foxx’s Joe Gardner in a very different place. Be warned, major spoilers to follow.
“For a long time, Joe did go to The Great Beyond. There was a lot of debating back and forth, but I think the more we saw him live his life and just thinking about his mother, Libba, and all these different factors, it felt like the right ending, that he needed to be able to go enjoy his life in the way he wanted to, because he’d learned so much throughout the film.”
Powers added that at one time there were several different endings in mind, and even revealed a few scant details of each one.
“We have versions of the ending where Joe does not go back to his body, where he actually stays dead. We have versions of the ending where you see Joe on Earth a year later. Man, that ending sparked more debate than I think any other element of the film.”
It sounds like the ending was one of the biggest sticking points of Soul, with Docter explaining that each outcome had its own group of passionate supporters.
“Oh yeah, there were definitely camps. Because I think people felt like it’s cheating to let him go back. On the other hand, story-wise, you can’t teach this guy to enjoy life the right way and then rob him of that. So, it just didn’t seem like the right way to go. Although that was the original draft. At the time, I was thinking, “The most selfless act you could do is to pass on — I’ve had the chance. I’ve already enjoyed life. Now, you should have that chance, you, 22, who has not dared go down.” That seemed poetic and nice, but ultimately, in the movie, every scene was Joe going, “Wait a second, I didn’t live this the right way before.” So, it didn’t seem right then at the end to go, “All right, off you go!”
Ultimately, Docter was concerned about having to show audiences too much of the afterlife, fearing that their depiction would never live up to what the audience had in their heads.
“That version he was, like, at peace and went in. But there was another version where he actually went to The Great Beyond, there was a scene there and then he returned. And we realized we were probably playing with fire, even though it was pretty esoteric. I don’t think it was too explicit in terms of, ‘This is what the afterlife looks like!’ It was more abstract. But still, we decided, ‘Eh, probably dangerous.’ And not ultimately right for the film, most importantly.”
Soul follows Joe Gardner, 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, 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.
The movie features the voices of Jamie Foxx as Joe Gardner, with Tina Fey as the trapped soul with a dim view of life, 22. Alongside them stars Phylicia Rashad, Angela Bassett, Ahmir Questlove Thompson, and Daveed Diggs. Soul is directed by Academy Award winner Pete Docter, who once again teams up with Pixar following work on such hits as Inside Out and Up and is co-directed by One Night in Miami’s Kemp Powers with Academy Award nominee Dana Murray producing.
Like many of Pixar’s previous endeavors, Soul went through a lot of different iterations before the creative team finally settled on an approach. At one time, the movie was even going in the direction of being a heist movie akin to Ocean’s 11. “All our movies take very different paths and you’d be shocked at what you saw when stuff was early in development to where it ended up being,” Kristen Lester, the story supervisor for Soul, revealed last year.
“Sometimes they’re very, very, very different movies and yeah, the first sketch of the movie, it was more of a heist movie that Joe was trying to go back to his life basically through, I can’t remember, doing a bunch of heist-y stuff. And I remember we came to the end of that version of the movie and it just felt like, again, like I talked about, doing honor to the subject matter and the thing that it was exploring, which is what gives life meaning, what is our purpose in life? The questions that Pete was answering. And it felt like that version of the movie wasn’t doing that justice, and so we had to take out… Okay, it’s not Ocean’s Eleven. What can we do to dig deeper into the thing that people really wanted to talk about?”
Since release, Soul has been met with universal acclaim, and has been described as one of Pixar’s “most ambitiously existential” as well as one the studio’s finest movies thanks to its profound message about enjoying the little things in life. Soul has also seen a huge bump in Disney+ subscribers, which could very well lead to the studio utilizing the same release strategy of skipping theaters moving forward.
After all the back and forth, Soul ends on such a beautiful note that it is hard to imagine anything else was ever even considered. Soul is available to stream now on Disney+. This comes to us courtesy of Entertainment Tonight.