“That was so cool, man. You know, we got to work with such amazing people on this film, and [sound designer] Ren [Klyce] has been a real key contributor,” Docter said. “It’s nice to see him up there; he’s up against himself for Mank.”
While Docter has won two Animated Feature Oscars in the past, for Inside Out and Up, Murray was nominated in 2018 for the animated short Lou. Today’s nomination is her first in the Feature category. “It feels a little bit abstract. I’m trying to take it all in,” the producer said. “It’s very exciting.”
Since its premiere on Disney+ on Christmas Day, Soul has resonated widely, quickly establishing itself as a sure-fire contender for Best Animated Feature, and even as a leader in that race. For Docter, the degree to which audiences have clicked with Soul was surprising, to a degree.
“I think initially, I was imagining this was more of the themes that you think about midway through your life. But I think the film spoke to even young people, who are interested in, where are we going? What am I going to do with my life? What am I born with, versus what can I do with it?” he said. “So, it’s really gratifying that the film spoke to many more, beyond what I had originally thought.”
Certainly, Soul was an ambitious undertaking. It went in creative and visual directions that Pixar never had before, and the Oscar noms felt like a validation of all the creative risks that were taken. But from the perspective of Docter and Murray, the prospect of taking big swings is also what makes working at Pixar so exciting in the first place. “You know, you don’t want to just do the same thing over and over. You like to say, ‘Okay, what have we not done? And how can we do it?’” Docter said. “The challenge of that is really half of the fun, I think.”
In conversation with Deadline, Docter and Murray also touched on their future projects. At present, Murray already has another unnamed feature in the early stages of development. While Docter is taking a step back from directing for the moment, to focus on his responsibilities as Pixar’s Chief Creative Officer, he is still producing a number of major upcoming titles, including Lightyear and Luca, and was excited to plug Pixar’s slate.
“We have like 17 projects going on, in varying stages. Luca is the next one, which comes out this summer, and it looks fantastic. All of the animation is finished; it’s really, really charming and so different than Soul, which I think is really refreshing,” he said. “And the one after that is so different from it, called Turning Red. It’s directed by Domee Shi, who [made] the short film Bao.”
Starring Jamie Foxx and Tina Fey, Soul centers on Joe, a frustrated middle-school band teacher who seeks to return to Earth, to realize his dreams of performing as a jazz musician, after a sudden accident separates him from his body. Thrust into a celestial realm known as The Great Before, the character finds that he’ll only be able to get back to New York City if he agrees to mentor a stubborn, fledgling soul named 22.
A history-making title, Soul is the first Pixar film to center on a Black character, its first to call upon the talents of a Black co-director, and the first to debut on Disney+, amidst the coronavirus pandemic. Its co-director, Kemp Powers, received his first Oscar nomination this morning in the Best Adapted Screenplay Category, as the scribe behind Amazon Studios’ One Night in Miami.
Thus far this season, Soul has received countless accolades, most recently winning the Golden Globes for Best Motion Picture – Animated and Best Original Score – Motion Picture. At the Annie Awards, it’s tied with Apple TV+’s Wolfwalkers, as a leader in nominations, with 10.
Soul’s competitors in the Oscars’ Animated Feature Race include Wolfwalkers, Onward (Disney/Pixar), Over the Moon (Netflix), and A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon (Netflix/Aardman Animations).