Pixar kicked off 2020 by introducing the powerhouse animation studio’s first openly LGBTQ character in the new film, Onward. Now the makers behind contemporary animated classics like Toy Story and Coco are moving onward to break another barrier: the just-released trailer for Soul gives viewers their first look at Pixar’s first African-American lead character, Joe Gardner, voiced by Jamie Foxx. And the Oscar-winning actor couldn’t wait to tease his history-making role on social media. “Honored to be the first ever African-American lead in a Pixar film,” Foxx wrote on Instagram. “I cannot wait for you all to see this beautiful story.” (Watch the trailer above.)
Currently set to premiere in theaters on June 19, Soul is the latest film from Pixar mainstay Pete Docter, who also wrote and directed Up and Inside Out — two to the studio’s most beloved (and tear-inducing) movies. Based on the trailer, his new film is also going to go for the emotional jugular. As the story begins, Joe is a middle school music teacher on the cusp of achieving his ambitions of playing professionally in a popular jazz club. While celebrating the good news, he falls into an open manhole and the accident leads his soul to separate from his body. Ascending to the way station between life and death, Joe’s soul is informed that it’ll soon be paired with a newborn baby. But when he discovers that his own body is still alive, he teams up with feisty friend “Twenty Two” (voiced by Tina Fey) to re-enter the world on his own terms... and in his own skin.
The combination of Pixar, Docter and Foxx predictably has fans excited, led by none other than the actor’s Just Mercy co-star Michael B. Jordan.
At the same time, even before the full trailer debuted, some have expressed concern online that Soul might fall prey to what they see as a disappointingly common Disney trope. The movie is arriving in theaters 11 years after The Princess and the Frog introduced the first African-American Disney Princess, Tiana, voiced by Anika Noni Rose. Much like Joe in Soul, though, Tiana inhabits a different body for much of the movie: a green amphibian, as opposed to a soul-shaped blob. That shape-shifting plot point was repeated in Spies in Disguise — the Blue Sky Studios-produced film that Disney released last December as part of its 20th Century Fox acquisition — with Will Smith’s suave spy being transformed into a pratfall-plagued pigeon. In all three cases, the presence of a black protagonist seems undercut by having that protagonist spend much of the movie in a different form.
One thing’s for sure: Pixar can always be counted on to bring some heart and soul to the summer movie season.
Soul is currently schedule to open in theaters on June 19.
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