If you thought Pixar’s resume couldn’t get any more impressive, “Soul“—the studio’s upcoming release about passion, music, and a soul-in-training—will prove you wrong. That’s no small task. After all, Pixar already boasts a repertoire of celebrated works. “Toy Story,” “Monster’s Inc.,” “Finding Nemo,” “The Incredibles,” “Coco,” and the list goes on. The team at Pixar has shown beyond doubt their ability to tell great stories and to do so year in and year out.

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“Great collaborators recognize the work that they’re doing and don’t try to do anybody else’s work,” said Pixar veteran, Pete Docter. “Everybody has a very assigned task, otherwise the film doesn’t get done. But we do want people to collaborate, to talk with each other, to spread information and ideas around, and that’s what really makes things go.”

Pixar’s diverse blend of creative minds produces an authenticity that rings true to real life. Kemp Powers, the co-director of “Soul” and a New York City native, emphasized this authenticity in the context of the animated cityscape.

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“Something that was really important to all of us is that it not be generic, where it seems like every block looks the same,” said Powers. “It was really important that when our character, Joe, was in Queens, it was recognizable as Queens versus the village in Manhattan.”

To ensure a life-like portrayal of the city—which would have to pass the scrutiny of a long-time New York City commuter in Kemp Powers—the Pixar team brought in cinematographer Bradford Young as a lighting consultant.

“He has such far-reaching ideas about lighting,” said Docter. “It’s not just like, ‘Hey, this is a dark room.’ It’s an economic statement. If you can afford to live in this or that kind of house, it’s going to reflect in the way the lighting works around you. And so he brought a craft-level touch into the art of the storytelling and the deeper statements about it.”

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Beyond authenticity, it is these deeper statements that make “Soul” the movie Pixar has been building toward. By inspecting a struggling musician’s life-purpose and connection to his true self—his soul—Pixar’s latest aspires to a depth not often seen in animation. It takes chances in the same way “Inside Out” did in dealing with taboo emotion. It’s daring in the same way “Coco” was in confronting death. So sure, in watching “Soul” when it’s released on Christmas Day, you’ll be engrossed in a story worthy of Pixar’s record. But you’ll also be challenged. You’ll be made to think and feel, and you’ll leave the film with a new perspective and, maybe, a new purpose.
Think that’s a tall order for Pixar? My conversation with Pete Docter, Kemp Powers, and “Soul” producer Dana Murray might convince you otherwise.

“Soul” hits Disney+ December 25.

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