Warning: This article contains spoilers for Pixar’s Soul on Disney+.
Come for the Pixar animation, stay for the existential questions. Since debuting last week on Disney+, Soul has captivated audiences with its uplifting (albeit slightly confusing) message about living in the moment and never giving up. The film ends with Joe (voiced by Jamie Foxx), a middle school jazz teacher, earning a second chance at life, but according to director Pete Docter, co-director Kemp Powers, and producer Dana Murray, the original Soul ending was much darker — as in, staying in the afterlife forever darker.
In a new interview with Entertainment Tonight, Docter, Powers, and Murray reveal that Soul‘s ending, in which Joe helps 22 (voiced by Tina Fey) find her spark and returns to Earth for a do-over at life, was hotly debated for months. “We went back and forth on the ending up until the last screening,” said Murray. “For a long time, Joe did go to The Great Beyond. There was a lot of debating back and forth, but I think the more we saw him live his life and just thinking about his mother, Libba, and all these different factors, it felt like the right ending, that he needed to be able to go enjoy his life in the way he wanted to, because he’d learned so much throughout the film.”
“We have versions of the ending where Joe does not go back to his body, where he actually stays dead,” added Powers. “We have versions of the ending where you see Joe on Earth a year later. Man, that ending sparked more debate than I think any other element of the film.”
Docter explained that in certain versions of the script, Joe was “at peace and went in” to The Great Beyond for good, while in others, he spent some time there before returning to Earth. “We realized we were probably playing with fire, even though it was pretty esoteric,” he told ET. “I don’t think it was too explicit in terms of, ‘This is what the afterlife looks like!’ It was more abstract. But still, we decided, ‘Eh, probably dangerous.’ And not ultimately right for the film, most importantly.”
“The version with Joe not going back to his body, he basically ended up as a mentor in the You Seminar, but a repeat mentor,” added Powers. “He stayed and ended up being, like, the best mentor ever, and he introduced lots of new ideas to the You Seminar. He kind of revolutionized it. It was very cute and very funny and it pissed some people off, but you know, you learn through trying. It didn’t work, but it was a fun exploration.”
Soul is now available to stream on Disney+.
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