You may not fully realise it to look at a lot of the promotional material, but Soul, Pixar’s new movie on its way to Disney+, is actually the studio’s first feature to centre a story on a Black protagonist, one who ends up dying quite early after he’s introduced, with the story thereafter focusing on his ghost.
In Soul’s newest trailer, we learn more about Joe Gardner (Jamie Foxx), an avid music lover, who meets his untimely demise while crossing a busy city street — and not noticing quickly enough that he’s stepped right into the middle of an open manhole, which leads to him promptly falling to his death.
In this trailer, we get a better idea of what’s awaiting Joe on the other side — namely a somewhat bureaucratic afterlife that scares him near to whatever there is after death, because Joe’s not really ready to let go of this mortal coil. Since he pushed himself out of an otherworldly process line into a place that’s neither heaven nor hell, Joe’s soul is sent on an adventure that appears to take him across the spiritual plane, to Earth, and back before it’s all through, which reveals some important and interesting details about Joe’s life.
Because Joe’s spiritual self is essentially a sentient blob of blue toothpaste, there was a way in which Soul’s earliest previews felt almost as if they were trying to downplay the reality that the movie’s main character was a Black man. But in the new trailer, you see glimpses of Joe’s existence in the world of the living that he’s desperately trying to get back to with the help of an unassigned soul from the Great Before, the realm where all souls first gain their sentience and personalities that eventually define the people they become.
The trailer makes clear that Joe’s able to make his way back to Earth, much to the alarm of the powers that be beyond the veil, which is what properly kicks Soul’s adventure off. But what’s really great and surprising to see here is how Pixar had the wherewithal to situate Joe squarely within a life filled with all sorts of Black and brown people, who’ve seldom really had any sort of significant presence within the studio’s movies. Just how much care Pixar took to make Joe’s world and life feel fully three dimensional — and not just a convenient means of reminding you that he’s a musician — remains to be seen, and one can only hope that by the movie’s end, Joe isn’t just a soul merely inhabiting a body that’s meant to be, you know, dead.
Soul hits Disney+ on December 25.