Piedmont filmmaker Pete Docter talks about music, philosophy, and the making of his daring new movie Soul
Q: You’ve directed films like Up, Monsters Inc and Inside Out, but you’ve said your fourth film, Soul brought some special challenges. What were those challenges?
A: The biggest two were trying to define something like the soul, which has been talked about in philosophy and religion. And second, by choosing jazz, which is Black improvisational music, we said this character should be Black, and then that got into a lot of things that I had no idea I didn’t know about — all the culture, the life of musicians. We were lucky to have found Kemp Powers, a Black screenwriter, who helped us a lot.
Q: In making this movie, what did you hope it would accomplish?
A: My hope is that when people finish watching they would say ‘we have to go get some ice cream or coffee to talk about this.’ The movie brings up larger issues — where did we come from? Do we have an instilled purpose in us? What are we waking up in the morning and going through all the difficulties of life for? I knew we wouldn’t be able to answer these questions, but if at least we could get people thinking about it, that was our hope.
Q: Music is certainly at the center of the story in Soul, and the performances are beautiful. Where did your interest in music come from?
A: Both of my parents are music teachers. My dad taught at a community college, my mother still to this day is involved with a music outreach education program for elementary students. She would always enlist me to draw cartoons of Beethoven or Stravinsky for kids. My two sisters are professional classical musicians. All that music gave me gave me a leg up as a filmmaker, I think.
Q: How so?
A: There’s a real connection between music and animation. The sense of timing is crucial. The difference between a frame — which is 1/24th of a second — can really have an impact on whether something is funny or not, or emotional or impactful.
Q: What’s your experience been releasing a film during COVID-19?
A: Normally we’d be traveling to do a lot of press and publicity. We’d be going to theaters and checking out the audiences to see how the film is going over, but now I’m sitting right here at home talking to people.
Q: You grew up in Bloomington, Minnesota. Why did you choose to live in Piedmont?
A: When I first came here I was a little overwhelmed because so many noteworthy people here are lawyers or big executives, and I hang out with animators. But of course as you get to know people there are artists and architects, people of all walks of life. I love how much value the community puts in their kids and the place and each other.
SOUL can be viewed on Disney +