22 — a soul who refuses to come down to Earth — is pessimistic from the start of Pixar’s Soul. She despises the thought of inhabiting a body or seeking her source of inspiration, preferring to spend eternity in the “great before,” a place where souls are prepared for their human lives. The audience doesn’t really understand why she feels this way, but that’s about to change in the upcoming animated short 22 vs. Earth.
Director Kevin Nolting, who also served as lead editor on Soul, says, “I didn’t want the short to be a mirror of what she was like in the feature.” “The fascinating thing for me about looking at what the story will be is what makes her who she is in the feature. This is an example of one of those occurrences. She was once one of those naive souls; what happened to transform her into the cynical soul she is now when Joe Gardner arrives? This is just the first move in the process.”
22 vs. Earth is a prequel, but it’s unclear when it takes place before Soul. In it, 22 (voiced by Tina Fey once more) attempts to assemble a group of adorable, innocent souls in order to stage a revolt. Things don’t always go according to schedule. The plot takes place in the “middle” of 22’s story, according to Nolting. He explains, “She’s been through a series of disappointments for maybe a few hundred years, and now she’s going to do something about it.”
It’s the kind of origin story that the Pixar team considered having in Soul, but eventually decided against it so that the emphasis could remain on protagonist Joe Gardner. For the short, the team experimented with a few different concepts inside the Soul universe, like stories focused on Terry, the stuffy accountant from the “great beyond,” and Mr. Mittens, the therapy cat. 22’s root, on the other hand, “just seemed to be the most natural fit,” according to Nolting.
However, it did create some issues, such as determining who the target audience is. Many of Pixar’s short films are stand-alone stories, but considering the complexity of Soul’s world, Nolting and his team agreed that 22 vs. Earth needed to be a companion piece. In a film that only lasts a few minutes, it was simply too difficult to understand how the view of the pre- and afterlife worked.
“On the feature [film], we struggled because we only had 90 minutes to work with,” Nolting explains. “We struggled with how to implement this universe, how to make the rules transparent while also keeping it dramatic. So having to do it all over again, particularly in a five-minute time limit, would take up all of my time. I assumed that people would have seen the element, that they would be familiar with 22, and that they would be familiar with the mechanics of the Soul world.”
On April 30th, Disney Plus will premiere 22 vs. Earth, a show that manages to catch much of the same feelings of existential angst as Soul in a much smaller and cuter box. For Nolting, the project’s appeal stemmed from the variety of flavors. He says, “I really love the comparison of the innocent and the cynical.” “For me, that was the main attraction.”