Pixar’s ‘Soul’ Directed by Pete Docter to Feature its First African-American Lead Character — All The Details from the D23 Expo Panel

We wrap up the latest news surrounding Pete Docter’s upcoming film, “Soul”, from the 2019 D23 Expo Walt Disney Studios Movie Panel.
Pixar Soul Concept Artwork

The most highly anticipated panel throughout the entire D23 Expo is the keynote covering Disney Studios’ slate of upcoming films. Much like the packed agenda at the Disney+ panel the day prior, today’s discussion saw new announcements for the final film in the Star Wars saga, the live-action Jungle Cruise movie, and much, much more. That being said, we were also thrilled to learn more about the upcoming Pixar films — including Onward and Soul.

We have split the news into two separate posts for Soul and Onward.

Pete Docter (Pixar Chief Creative Officer and Soul director) joined the stage and introduced himself by simply saying, “Hi, I’m Pete.” He discussed his journey working at Pixar, discussing working alongside Steve Jobs and the first Toy Story film. Pete transitioned from his journey into discussing his upcoming film, Soul — which he’s been working on since he wrapped up Inside Out.


Soul Character Artwork for Joe Gardner

Announced in June of this year, as soon as we posted about Pete Docter’s upcoming film, the internet was ablaze with excitement. There’s something so anticipatory when one of the most senior members of Pixar is creating a film — and even more enticing now that Pete is the Chief Creative Officer for the Studio as well.

Pete noted that Soul is a film about where souls come from and what makes “you…YOU”. Mouse Info shared that “The You Seminar” is where souls get their passions, humor, and dreams (these things are apparently determined before you’re even formed). “Have you ever noticed that babies already have a personality?” Docter questioned on stage.

Pete also noted that the film is a story about metaphysics (which, according to Wikipedia, is a branch of philosophy that examines the fundamental nature of reality, including the relationship between mind and matter, between substance and attribute, and between potentiality and actuality.)

Joe Gardner, the main character (and Pixar’s first African American lead character) 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.

Joe has had a lifelong dream of playing music at the legendary, Half Note Jazz Club — and finally gets his chance (most likely a nod to the Blue Note Jazz Club in NY). Joe has been playing music since he was 3-years old and after many years of fruitlessly trying, he finally gets his big break (via SlashFilm).

Pixar Soul 22 Character Artwork

Variety notes, “After the wrong step into an open sewer grate, Joe slips back into his soul-form back in the other realm — with some existential work to do before he might land his big gig.”

So, Joe’s body gets separated from his soul — Whoa! We’re getting deep, Pixar — and we love it!

From various people tweeting about this, we can tell that the clips have a dark undertone, but also seem like it has a ton of heart and humor — Pete’s specialty.

Pixar Soul Logo


SlashFilm has the full description of the clip which was screened at the D23 Expo as well as some additional thoughts — more details on their site.

“In the clip, Joe runs through the streets of New York City, making his way to a jazz restaurant to play piano. Joe believes his purpose on this planet is to play, declaring, “It’s what I was meant to do, and nothing’s gonna stop me.” When he finally gets the gig of his dreams, Joe gets on his cellphone to brag, narrowly avoiding getting hit by cars and construction, only to fall down a sewer opening. When he opens his eyes, he’s surrounded by blackness and finds himself back in the You Seminar and himself colored all blue. “If this place looks familiar, it’s because you’ve been here before,” someone tells Joe, as the place becomes filled with pavilions where different personality traits are held.

Here, Joe meets a new soul named “22” — the last digits in a number in the billions. Because 22 doesn’t yet have a person, she looks like a big green creature with a big head, nobody, and white buckteeth. Joe discovers that in order to return to Earth, he must travel to the impossibly vast cosmic realms. Through this journey, he will learn what it’s like to have a soul.”

Pixar Soul Vocal Cast


  • Joe Gardner — Jamie Foxx
  • Libba (Joe’s Mother) — Phylicia Rashād
  • Paul (Joe’s nemesis and neighbor) — Daveed Diggs
  • #22 — Tina Fey
    • Tina Fey lends her voice to a new soul named 86 billion, 783 million, 123 thousand, five hundred and 22—or just 22 for short—who’s been at the seminar for so long, she’s developed a unique view of Earth: It’s terrible.
  • Curly (not surprisingly, a jazz drummer voiced by) — Ahmir “Quest Love” Thompson

The image above is via Walt Disney Studios Twitter page.


WHAT MAKES YOU… YOU? — Ever wonder where your passion, your dreams, and your interests come from? Disney and Pixar’s Soul journeys from the streets of New York City to the never-before-seen cosmic realms and “The You Seminar,” the fantastical place where we all discover our unique personalities. Directed by Academy Award® winner Pete Docter (Inside OutUp), co-directed by Kemp Powers and produced by Academy Award® nominee Dana Murray (Pixar short Lou), and featuring the voices of Jamie Foxx, Tina Fey, Phylicia Rashād, Daveed Diggs and Ahmir Questlove Thompson.


Release Date — June 19, 2020
Director — Pete Docter
Co-Director — Kemp Powers
Producer — Dana Murray
Writer — Mike Jones
Composer — Jon Batiste
Score — Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross

What are your thoughts from today’s announcement — chat with other Pixar fans in the Pixar Post Forum Soul thread.


  • March 6, 2020 — Onward
  • June 19, 2020 — Soul
  • June 18, 2021 — Unknown
  • March 18, 2022 — Unknown
  • June 17, 2022 — Unknown

Pixar Post — T.J. & Julie

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