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Arts & Culture

There's San Antonio 'Soul' Behind Disney And Pixar's New Movie

SOUL
Pixar/PIXAR
ALL THAT JAZZ – In Pixar Animation Studios’ upcoming feature film “Soul,” Joe Gardner is a middle-school band teacher whose life hasn’t quite gone the way he expected. His true passion is playing jazz, and he’s good. But when he finds himself in another realm helping someone else find their passion, he discovers what it truly means to have soul. Jamie Foxx lends his voice to Joe. Directed by Academy Award® winner Pete Docter (“Inside Out,” “Up”), co-directed by Kemp Powers and produced by Academy Award® nominee Dana Murray (Pixar short “Lou”), “Soul” will debut exclusively on Disney+ (where Disney+ is available) on December 25, 2020. © 2020 Disney/Pixar. All Rights Reserved.

A huge new film by Disney and Pixar has deep San Antonio roots. The soul behind the new animated film “Soul” was raised here. Mike Jones loves South Texas, but always felt like a fish out of water. He didn’t relate to football or hunting, which seemed to dominate area culture as he grew up.

“I left high school wanting to be an English teacher and after a year at UTSA and then a year and a half at University of North Texas, then I became enamored with film,” he said.

He moved on to New York University where his major focus became cinematography. Then one of his professors saw screenwriting talent in him and urged him in that direction. Until that counsel, he had no idea that screenwriting was his dominant talent. In the time after college, Jones has pursued that full time, and subsequently worked on “Toy Story 4,” “The Incredibles” and “Coco.”

SOUL
Pixar/PIXAR
ALL THAT JAZZ – In Pixar Animation Studios’ upcoming feature film “Soul,” Joe Gardner is a middle-school band teacher whose true passion is playing jazz. A single unexpected step sends him to the cosmic realms where he finds the “You Seminar”—a fantastical place where Joe is forced to think again about what it truly means to have soul. Jamie Foxx was tapped to voice Joe. Directed by Academy Award® winner Pete Docter (“Inside Out,” “Up”), co-directed by Kemp Powers and produced by Academy Award® nominee Dana Murray (Pixar short “Lou”), “Soul” will debut exclusively on Disney+ (where Disney+ is available) on December 25, 2020. © 2020 Disney/Pixar. All Rights Reserved.

“I attribute the fact that I was observing so much as a kid growing up to develop something to say,” Jones said.

And what he’s got to say is at the heart of Disney and Pixar’s quirky new “Soul.” He wrote it. The film’s main character is Joe, and Joe’s life is completely centered around music.

“‘Soul’ is about a man who is a middle school band teacher who gets his big break and yet dies on the same day as he gets a big break,” he said.

In the movie, Joe was strutting down the street and so into his music he didn’t notice he was walking into an open manhole. He disappears into it, dying in the process. If the main character dying on the day he gets his big break doesn’t sound to you like a standard-issue animated children’s film, Jones shared your doubt.

“We were worried about that. We were maybe making too much of an adult movie that kids wouldn't get,” he said. “So we actually brought the kids in, including my own two kids, into a kids screening of it. And man, they got it!”

Jones thinks that the film being warmly received by kids probably has a lot to do with those breathing life to the key roles in the movie.

“Yeah, we cast Jamie Foxx the lead, and Jamie added such a wonderful humanity to the role,” he said.

Mike Jones.jpeg
Photo by Deborah Coleman / Pixar
Mike Jones is photographed on August 1, 2019 at Pixar Animation Studios in Emeryville, Calif. (Photo by Deborah Coleman / Pixar)

Foxx’s Joe ends up in “The Great Before” which is where souls are assigned their passions, and their personality attributes. Through a series of otherworldly happenings, Joe also ends up linked with the other main character, called Number 22.

“Tina Fey is 22. You just need to kind of give her a few feeder lines and then she will go to town on it, you know. She is so funny!” he said.

Another character is a maternal figure. You may remember her from the TV show “Cosby,” where she also played a mother.

“Phylicia Rashad as Libba. She was funny because she's so authentic and she's so true. And Libba is named after my mom, who lives in San Antonio,” Jones said.

The plot to “Soul” deals with the whole spectrum of human emotion. Life, death, and everything in between. It’s heady stuff for a children’s film, one that Jones admits clearly isn’t just for kids.

“A film about what it means to live a fulfilled life could go in any number of directions, but we didn't want to make ‘A Christmas Carol’ or ‘It's A Wonderful Life,’” he said. “While those movies guided us and inspired us a great deal, we kind of wanted to put our own stamp on it.”

“Soul” was originally scheduled to debut in June 2020, but the COVID-19 pandemic kept that from happening. It was then re-scheduled for a Christmas release, streaming on Disney Plus.

“I really wanted to have this movie open in San Antonio and invite all of my family and friends and have a big party afterwards. And of course, we can't do any of that now. And that's a bit of a bummer,” Jones said.

Reviews have been very good to great. Rotten Tomatoes gives “Soul” a 95% rating. Riding this wave of success at Disney and Pixar was something Jones never saw for himself.

“I never thought it was an option for me. I never thought being a director or a screenwriter or being involved in the movie business at all was an option for me,” he said.

Turns out all that time Mike Jones didn’t spend hunting or playing football, was time well spent.

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