'Soul' wins best animated film, best music Oscars after bringing NYC to life in painstaking detail

Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross and Jon Batiste also won Best Score for music they composed for movie

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Monday, April 26, 2021
'Soul' wins Oscar for Best Score
"Soul" from Disney/Pixar was released to almost universal praise from the critics, and now it has won the Oscar Best Score.

NEW YORK -- "Soul" from Disney/Pixar was released to almost universal praise from the critics, and now it has won the Oscars for Best Animated Film and Best Score.

During their acceptance speeches, director Pete Docter and producer Dana Murray made a point of praising music teachers -- the profession of the movie's main character.

"You make the world a better place," Docter said. "My wish for all of us tonight is that we could follow the example of jazz musicians -- that wherever we are, whatever we have, we turn it into something beautiful."

During a backstage interview, Murray pointed out that music producer Quincy Jones, jazz legend Herbie Hancock and other artists in New York made contributions to the project.

"It was amazing working with them," she said.

Docter said they were fortunate to have Foxx voice the leading character of Joe Gardner.

"Joe is way more nerdy than Jamie," he said backstage. "Jamie is much more cooler. But a lot of the elements of the film and the character were so blessed by him. His sense of energy. He never stops. He doesn't give up. He's an amazing musician. Of course, he can do the comedy and drama. We were very fortunate to have him."

Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross and Jon Batiste also won Best Score for the music they composed for "Soul."

RELATED: Meet the real NYC music teacher who inspired Disney-Pixar's 'Soul'

Sandy Kenyon interviews Dr. Peter Archer, the retired New York City music teacher who inspired Disney-Pixar's "Soul."

The movie tells the story of Joe Gardner, voiced by Jamie Foxx, a band teacher whose soul becomes separated from his body. He finds himself in The Great Before, where souls get their personalities before coming to Earth, and sets off on a journey to show 22, a soul voiced by Tina Fey, what's great about being a human.

The cast includes:

The film takes place in New York City, and those behind the film wanted to make sure they got the details right. Anyone who lives in Brooklyn, Queens, or Manhattan's West Village will find that much is familiar in this movie that plays like an ode to the Big Apple and its people.

Joe Gardner, brought to life by Foxx, is a music teacher who dreams of making it big as a jazz musician. And while the character is fictional, he is based on a very real retired teacher.

"The movie starts in my classroom," Dr. Peter Archer said.

His classroom was recreated by an army of artists and their supervisors, like Paul Abadilla, who served as sets art director for "Soul."

"If we're doing our jobs really well, the audience shouldn't notice," Abadilla said. "The audience should focus on the characters, the main characters, in the scene."

"We need earnestness right now. We've been going through so much. You know, we've been going through so much in these past couple of years. And I think we need earnestness. I think we need good," Foxx said of his role. "I think we need a movie that looks for the good in people. This movie's about helping someone, helping someone see the world in a different way."

The faces in the crowd are Mara MacMahon's focus, and dozens of background characters come from hundreds of sketches and detailed drawings.

"As character model lead on the film, I work on the characters which is a compliment to the sets," she said. "And what I loved is each one of these designs of individual people, you could tell there was a story behind it."

They add up to realism, the same way little touches like graffiti do.

"It just adds a sense of richness and that sense of age and wear and tear to the city that made it that much more believable," Abadilla said.

RELATED: State of the Oscars: Diverse field highlights Academy Awards race

Oscar nominations were announced a couple of weeks ago, a time when even the biggest stars in the world cross their fingers and try to keep calm.

Among the big team shaping this were those who grew up in the city, according to MacMahon.

"There were actually points in the film where we were working on particular shot or scene, and somebody would say, "Hey, I'm actually from that neighborhood, and what I noticed when I am back home or I'm visiting family I usually see this,'" she said.

And all of this is intentional and vital, Abadilla said.

"That's what the film is about," he said. "Celebrating the ordinary, the overlooked things about life, right?"

Which is why you will find gum on the sidewalk in "Soul."

Abadilla and MacMahon's pride in their work and their determination to fairly represent the many different cultures found in New York City is evident in the final results.

So many people put their hearts and souls into getting the smallest details right, and that has to be one of the reasons the film is nominated for an Oscar.

RELATED | 'Soul' both a celebration of Black culture, reflection on life's meaning

Sandy Kenyon has more on the new Disney Pixar film "Soul," which is both a celebration of African American culture and a reflection on the meaning of life.

The Walt Disney Company is the parent company of Pixar and this ABC station. The Associated Press contributed to this report.