Pixar's 'Soul' Filmmakers Talk Alternate Endings and an Unused Post-Credits Scene
After taking high school band teacher and aspiring jazz musician Joe Gardner (Jamie Foxx) through an existential crisis and on an adventure through the wild worlds of The Great Beyond and The Great Before, Pixar’s Soul gives him an appropriately happy ending. However, as co-directors and co-writers Pete Docter and Kemp Powers revealed in the publicity tour leading up to the release of Soul, there were several alternate endings that would have been much more sad. Plus, there were some ideas that would have further wrapped up the story of some other characters.
Find out about some of Pixar’s Soul alternate endings below, but beware of major spoilers.
In Pixar’s Soul, after landing the kind of jazz gig that he’s been waiting his entire life for, Joe Gardner accidentally falls to his death, taking him to the waiting line of The Great Beyond. But instead of going to where he’s supposed to, he ends up in The Great Before, the ethereal plane where souls get their personalities. Mistaken for a mentor who helps new souls, Joe is tasked with helping a soul named 22 (Tina Fey) find her spark so she can begin life on Earth, which he sees as his only way of potentially getting back to his life on Earth. The only problem is that 22 is hellbent on staying in The Great Before and has run through countless mentors before him.
After a hasty workaround brings Joe and 22 down to Earth without completing their task, Joe finds himself in the body of a therapy cat named Mr. Mittens and 22 is inside the body of Joe, giving us a classic body swap scenario. As they experience life in this way, 22 realizes that life on Earth is much better than she initially thought, and Joe realizes what’s really important in life is simply enjoying it rather than obsessing about what he believes is his purpose. When the time comes to return to The Great Before to rectify their defiance of the rules, Joe is given a chance to return to Earth, but he gives it up so 22 can finally live her own life on Earth.
In the end, Joe is still given the opportunity to return to Earth by The Great Before’s overseers, The Jerrys. One of The Jerrys asks how Joe will spend the rest of his life, and Joe simply says, “I’m not sure. But I do know I’m going to live every minute of it.” Though we never see exactly what that means, Joe takes a step out from his apartment building’s front door and takes a deep breath of fresh air.
It’s a touching conclusion, but we almost saw one which hit a bit harder and sadder, because there were several alternate endings in which Joe would have died instead of coming back to Earth. Speaking to Collider, Kemp Powers explained that there were many iterations of Soul with death wrapping up Joe’s story. Powers recalled:
“We did a lot of versions of Joe dying at the end and staying dead, in all kinds of different ways. Some of them were way more emotional. Some of them were funny. We did a lot of different endings.”
Over at USA Today, Pete Docter said that these endings had Joe learning the same lesson, but his sacrifice of not returning to Earth was not reversed in the end. The director said:
“We felt that he had learned enough to appreciate the things that he didn’t value to begin with. And that’s why we felt like, ‘Oh, that could work.’ It felt very noble that he’s sort of sacrificing his chance to go back and instead handing it off to 22. But as it turned out, so much of the film was about him learning for the first time that, ‘Hey, wait a minute. My barber has a whole life that I didn’t know anything about. I didn’t know that I could be honest and truthful with my mom.’ It felt like it was robbing him to not allow him to go back.”
If Joe wasn’t allowed to go back to Earth, it certainly would have made the lesson he learned bittersweet. Joe never would have been given a chance to rectify his shortsighted perspective on life and truly enjoy it through new eyes. This was undoubtedly the right decision, and it made for a much more uplifting conclusion. The ambiguous nature of the ending is even more satisfying than seeing where Joe chose to take his life next. Powers explained the thought process behind that decision:
“We know that audiences often want to be told exactly what happened to the character. They want to know that the character made the ‘right’ decision. But in the case of Joe, we didn’t want to put a choice on him. We wanted to say that regardless of what he ended up doing, whether it was going back to teaching, playing in a band, or some hybrid of both, he just appreciated life better.”
Much like Joe’s story is still open-ended when it comes to what he chooses to do with his future, the soul called 22 is given the same treatment. Though we know 22 goes to live a life on Earth, we don’t get an idea of how that plays out. But Powers said that there were other endings where we saw what happened to her. The filmmaker elaborated:
“There was one where Joe was touring with Dorothea and teaching students privately on the side, and 22 was a new student and he recognized that it was her.”
So why didn’t they follow through on this in any form? Every time they came up with an epilogue, they changed their minds. Powers explained that “there was something innately not satisfying about it.” Considering Joe’s ending being much more satisfying without a definitive choice for the next phase of his life, I think doing the same with 22 was a smart decision, too.
The therapy cat Mr. Mittens almost had a post-credits sequence that would have revealed where he ended up. But in the end, Powers and Docter decided that the audience shouldn’t see where any of the characters actually ended up.
Instead, Soul was left to be about the little moments that make up our lives rather than where we end up, and that’s ultimately what makes the movie resonate so well.
Pixar’s Soul is available now on Disney+.
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