For an animated slice-of-Black-New-York-life, Disney’s new Pixar film Soul joins Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse in showing new parts of New York not typically glamorized by Hollywood. Despite being one of the most famous cities in the world, there are dozens of neighborhoods and experiences viewers never see on the silver screen. New York City isn’t just the glitz and glamor of midtown, the brunch bunch of Brooklyn, or the gentrified hives in Harlem.
The new movie takes us to an ordinary Queens middle school, where Joe Gardner (Jamie Foxx) is a down-on-his-luck band teacher. On his way to a gig in the Village that could finally make his music career, he falls down a manhole and dies. After he escapes the Great Beyond, he hides out in the Great Before, where pre-souls find their “spark” before being sent to Earth to be born. His mission? Help the dispassionate, uninterested-in-humanity pre-soul Number 22 find her spark, then use it to get back to Earth in time for his gig.
New York is the perfect place to set a movie about finding your passion. Aside from the millions of native city-goers who hustle hard every day, the city is a place of dreams for many transplants. The producers clearly agreed.
“As soon as we landed on jazz, we started to explore New York City,” says co-director Pete Docter said in October. “Though jazz didn’t originate there, New York is the jazz capital of America. It is a center of culture, full of immigrants and influences from around the world. It’s a rich and vibrant place to feature a film.”
The team from Pixar, including co-director Kemp Powers, a Brooklynite, visited New York to get the energy of the city just right.
“One place we visited was a public school in Queens, New York since that’s where Joe is supposed to be a teacher in the film. While we were in Queens, we met Dr. Peter Archer, this amazingly passionate middle school jazz band teacher. And, of course, since Joe wants to play-his dream is to play in New York jazz clubs, we just had to visit a bunch of jazz clubs in Manhattan.”
From the distant future, to under the sea, from the world of toys to the mere concept of emotions, Pixar has always had a way of taking abstract or big concepts and turning them into a beautiful and emotional journey. New York City is the next world on that list, and especially now, Soul makes New York look better than ever.
Soul will be streaming on Disney+ on Christmas Day.