Pixar Considered Several Different Endings for “Soul”
Spoiler alert! This post contains major spoilers for Disney and Pixar’s new film Soul, which is now available on Disney+.
Soul follows Joe Gardner, a middle-school band teacher who almost dies after landing the gig that could change his career. Joe escapes the afterlife and ends up in the Great Before, where he accidentally becomes mentor to soul 22. After a series of mishaps (including body-swapping), both Joe and 22 learn what makes being human on Earth so great. Joe than gives up his chance to return to life so 22 can finally be born.
Thankfully, the Jerrys of the Great Before take notice, and give Joe a second chance. When Jerry asks how he’s going to spend his life, Joe says, “I’m not sure. But I do know I’m going to live every minute of it.” The film ends with Joe stepping out of his home and taking a deep breath.
Though that’s the ending they settled on, co-writers and directors Pete Docter and Kemp Powers went through several possible endings, including some versions where Joe did die.
Powers told Collider, “[W]e 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.”
“We felt that he had learned enough to appreciate the things that he didn’t value to begin with,” Docter told USA Today. “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.”
Other endings showed what happened to 22, who isn’t seen again after their soul descends to Earth. But every time they thought up an epilogue for 22, they changed their minds. Powers said, “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.”
The filmmakers decided “there was something innately not satisfying about it” so they chose to leave 22’s life a mystery.
One post-credits sequence they considered would have shown what happened to Mr. Mittens, the cat whose body Joe possesses for most of the movie.
Ultimately, they decided that showing the futures of the characters went against the message of the film, which delves into living for the little moments and the sometimes unsatisfying nature of achieving a dream.
“We know that audiences often want to be told exactly what happened to the character,” Powers told USA Today. “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.”