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The journey of a soul – there and back again

Aphton Corbin, Kristen Lester, Michael Yates, Pete Docter, Pixar Employees, Soul, Soul press day

Posted by Simoa • October 9, 2020

A trip to Pixar was out of the question this year, due to COVID-19’s travel and gathering restrictions. It definitely was a bummer, although minor in the grand scheme of things. But even if I couldn’t visit the studio in person, I was able to talk to the filmmakers of Soul and learn about the film virtually. As always, I’m grateful for the opportunity to go behind the scenes.

Soul has been in production for five years, but the story has been with Pete Docter for a lifetime. It all began 23 years ago, when his son was born. Docter marveled at his newborn child’s personality.

“I thought your personality developed through your interaction with the world. And yet, it was pretty clear that we’re all born with a very unique, specific sense of who we are.”

Pixar movies so often create something out of nothing, dazzling worlds vibrant with color and detail. They are either places we’ve never been or can only imagine. Soul‘s Great Before surpasses anything we’ve seen before, since the artists at Pixar outdo themselves every time. But no matter how mesmerizing the look of a film is, the characters within should take precedence. Enter Joe Gardner.

Playwright Kemp Powers joined the production in 2018 to write the script and was made co-director. His script pages were brought to the story department, where the artists were tasked with drawing them. Story supervisor Kristen Lester led this process, with a team that included Michael Yates and Aphton Corbin. According to Lester, Powers’ script contained a lot of history and authenticity, which really helped to inform Joe’s backstory.

There was a staggering number of storyboards drawn for this film – 73,611 to be exact! Take a look at just two of them below. Absolutely stunning!

Of course, not all of the boards made it into the final film, but those discarded ideas were still vital in establishing Joe and his background. We know that he’s a middle school band teacher with more lofty aspirations of a career in jazz music. Joe’s never realized these dreams, and Michael Yates was concerned with why that was the case. Joe is a talented pianist without any delusions, so why wouldn’t he have found success? Yates thought about people he knew who hadn’t achieved their dreams and was able to envision the obstacles standing in Joe’s way. In each instance, Joe misses an audition because he’s helping out his family, friends, and students. Through these sketches, we learned that he’s a selfless person who put his dreams on hold.

The sketches and script were then boarded by Aphton Corbin. One of the sequences she worked on was Joe’s life in the Hall of You, an exhibit that showcases a person’s life on earth and their achievements. Corbin “imagined it as a dark space with moments of Joe’s life playing in beams of light that characters could walk through, kind of like a museum.” Joe’s is distinctly unimpressive, a series of unexciting moments combined with failures. From this vantage point, his life is disappointing. This was intentional, as Corbin explained:

“We wanted Joe’s Hall of You to feel more like an exhibit of his failures rather than his successes. We piled on rejection after rejection to build our case and placed the moments where he decided to become a band teacher at the end, so Joe falling down the manhole felt like the perfect coda to his sad life. It was our goal at this point to get the audience on Joe’s side. We wanted them to feel like he needed to return to his body to finish living his dream as a jazz musician.”

Corbin also included Joe’s first encounter with jazz, a moment where he discovers the passion that now defines his life. His face was the focus in that scene – it’s one of the most wonderful in the film’s trailer. Joe’s face is lit up with love and wonder, aglow in the colors from the jazz club. We all have moments like that in our lives, no?

The completed storyboards were then sent to editorial, where music was added. Editorial is where the story artists watch how their drawings come together for the overall film. They watched the entire film from beginning to end about eight times in Pixar’s theater.

Mainstream animated and live action films rarely feature nonwhite characters as the heroes of the story. Too often they’re shunted into supporting roles. Audiences hardly ever watch films with Black protagonists that they can relate to and root for. I think people will definitely see themselves reflected in Joe’s Hall of You as I could, a place where our failures and dim moments eat up all the spotlight.

For Pete Docter, making this film was less about failed dreams, but questioning his purpose. He’s directed acclaimed films and won numerous awards, but still the question nagged at him.

“Is this really what I’m supposed to be doing with my limited time on Earth? In fact, in darker days, around now, I wonder sometimes, is there any point to it? If I had a choice, would I decide to be born and come live?”

I was so shocked to hear him admit that. We’re usually discouraged from sharing such thoughts, but I think it’s a universal feeling, especially with a world that’s constantly in turmoil. And with 2020 going on record as possibly the most disastrous year ever, this film’s release could not be any more timely.

Who would want to live if they were given that choice? But Soul seeks to both answer that question and dispel the doubt that surrounds it. This is a journey we’re all going to take with Joe, by asking ourselves the same questions.

There’s still so much more that I learned about this stunning film. Stay tuned to read all about it! But in the meantime, delve into Joe’s world with more gorgeous artwork.

Soul will premiere exclusively on Disney+ on December 25. This is the third time the film has been pushed to a later date. Theatrical release dates are pending. Surely whenever pandemic restrictions are eased, audiences will have the opportunity to be dazzled by it on the big screen.

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Catch A Sneak Peek Of Soul – Tomorrow!

Pete Docter, Soul

Posted by Joanna • June 26, 2020

Pixar’s next film Soul, directed by Pete Docter and Kemp Powers, was originally set to release on June 19th. It will now be released on November 20th. Lots of ‘firsts’ have happened this year due to obvious reasons, so Soul is now Pixar’s first movie to be postponed not due to production delays but due to a…global health crisis. A lot of the marketing is clearly shifting to virtual means because of this too.

Tomorrow (June 27th), Essence Festival of Culture is hosting a virtual conversation with the team behind Soul. We’ll even be given an exclusive sneak peek at the film.

The team behind Disney & Pixar’s upcoming film, “Soul” – director Pete Docter, producer Dana Murray, and co-director Kemp Powers – are joined by Dr. Johnnetta Cole and Jon Batiste to offer an exclusive sneak peek at the film.

To see the little featurette, you need to RSVP by following this link. The Soul portion of the event will run live from 6:44PM to 6:54PM ET. Since it’s live, we’ll be tuning in a bit earlier to make sure we don’t miss anything!

 

For many of us, Soul is acting a bit like a light at the end of a very long tunnel. We’re hoping that November 20th won’t just feel a bit more normal, but also better than the previous ‘normal’. I’ll leave you with this lovely quote from Pete Docter that has seen me through a lot.

“It’s like you run into this dark tunnel, trusting that somewhere there’s another end to it where you’re going to come out. And there’s a point in the middle where it’s just dark. There’s no light from where you came in and there’s no light at the other end; all you can do is keep running. And then you start to see a little light, and a little more light, and then, bam! You’re out in the sun.”

 

UPDATE:

Here’s the sneak peek and conversation with the film makers in case you missed it:

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Soul’s New Release Date: November 20th

Pete Docter, Pixar, Poster, Soul

Posted by Joanna • April 13, 2020

Soul, Pixar’s next original movie directed by Pete Docter, has been pushed back from it’s original release date of June 19th to November 20th. This means it will land on the weekend before Thanksgiving.

Many movies have been delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic. This is the first official word of Soul being pushed back, but it doesn’t come as a surprise.

Other movies with less notice have had to resort to straight-to-digital release, but with lockdown effects likely to be differing around the world come June, a delayed release seems the more sensible choice. It was revealed last week that a number of Pixar employees have been put on furlough – perhaps this would have had an effect on the completion and marketing of the film as well.

Soul was originally set to share a ‘release date birthday’ with Inside Out (another of Docter’s films).

Bring on November 20th – hopefully this new date will see us in a much more familiar world and will allow us to experience the film for the first time in an exciting crowded theatre.

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New film still and new insight into Soul

Pete Docter, Soul

Posted by Simoa • January 22, 2020

Pete Docter’s Soul bears some resemblance to Inside Out with its abstract concept, but the two films have another connection. Speaking with Empire, the director gave further insight into what his newest film is all about. As it turns out, Joe Gardner’s journey after his death is to The Great Before, defined as a place where people get their personalities. I can’t help but be reminded of the beginning of Inside Out, where Riley greets the world and her parents as a newborn baby. As Docter noted,

“The instant my kids were born, they seemed to have a very specific, unique personality; this is a deep dive into why that’s the case.”

I love that Docter is drawing inspiration from his children once again for this latest exploration into the human experience. I also wonder exactly how he thinks their personalities were fixed from the moment they were born. Maybe that’s something only parents can understand. Regardless, Soul, in theaters on June 19th, will be a film for everyone. Check out the exclusive new film still.

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Pixar’s got Soul

Pete Docter, Soul

Posted by Simoa • November 6, 2019

Where do we go when we die? Is there some part of us that lives on when our bodies are buried beneath dirt? Some form of disembodied consciousness? Does it still wander earth or does it exist in a liminal space? What is the soul? Nearly every religion believes in the existence of a soul, and science can neither prove or disprove it. No one knows what the soul looks like, but Pixar’s going to show us their idea of it, in Pete Docter’s newest film.

An exclusive new look comes to us courtesy of Entertainment Weekly, as well as a new look at protagonist Joe Gardner, played by Jamie Foxx.

Soul’s writer and co-director Kemp Powers describes Joe as someone “who’s lived his whole life like he was meant to do this one thing [music] to the exclusion of pretty every other thing.” Powers also characterizes that single minded pursuit as similiar to anyone involved in the arts: it’s an almost religious obsessiveness you have to have to have success and a career in the arts.”

If you want to avoid any more plot details about the film, read no further. Joe dies in an accident right after he scores his dream job. His soul doesn’t journey to the afterlife, but to the You Seminar, where souls are given personalities and sent to inhabit human bodies. Like Docter’s Inside Out the film ventures into the interior. Instead of examining the emotions of the mind, this one will portray the essence of a person. At You Seminar, Joe meets 22 (Tina Fey), a human hating soul who Docter describes as a teenager with an attitude. She teams up with Joe to reunite his soul with his body on earth.

The film will surely ask some existential questions and get us all thinking about those concepts outside our realm. Docter hopes it makes us introspective.

“What are the things that, at the end of the day, are really going to be the important things that you look back on and go, ‘I spent a worthy amount of my limited time on Earth worrying or focused on that’?”

Soul flies into theaters on June 19, 2020.

 

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Pixar sneak peeks at D23

D23, Dan Scanlon, Dana Murray, Disney+, Onward, Pete Docter, Soul, Toy Story 4

Posted by Simoa • August 26, 2019

D23, Disney’s official fanclub, hosted its bi-annual expo this past weekend. There’s been a drought of Pixar news recently, barring Toy Story 4‘s billion dollar box office earnings, but now we’ve got a nice trickle of news! Attendees were treated to previews of the newest Pixar films in theaters next year: Onward and Soul. And that’s not all, since the expo is always packed with lots of celebrations and giveaways for fans. This year, there were booths for a sculpting demo with longtime Pixarian Jerome Ranft, the Pixar archives, and designing toys. Guinevere, the truck from Onward, also made an appearance.

Here’s what we can look forward to in 2020!

Onward

Described by director Dan Scanlon as a modern fantasy quest, the film follows two elvin brothers, Ian and Barley Lightfoot, living in a fantasy suburbia that has lost much of the former. Pixar’s films usually bring magic into the real world, but this time they’re taking audiences to an imaginary one where magic has faded.

I absolutely love this poster’s design. I’m a rookie pin collector, but I’d love to get my denim jacket on this level! Notice the cassette tape simply marked with Dad. It’s not as flashy as the others, but my eyes are drawn to it anyway. The Disney Store could even sell some of these pins; I covet that unicorn.

If you’d like to read more about the storyline, Collider has a great write up but beware of spoilers! Knowing how personal this film is for Dan Scanlon, those brief details about the footage screened at D23 is quite moving.

Soul

Pete Docter’s latest venture after probing the human mind in Inside Out will now plumb the depths of the soul. This film is already a challenge since many people don’t even believe in the existence of a soul. Pete hasn’t disappointed us yet though. And it’ll be the studio’s first ever full length film with a black protagonist! The synopsis over on Polygon also has a handful of plot details if you’d rather avoid those.

Soul tells the story of Joe Gardner (Jamie Foxx), on a quest of his own like the Lightfoot brothers, but an entirely dissimilar one. Tina Fey also joins the cast as 22, along with Phylicia Rashad, Daveed Diggs, and Questlove. The soundtrack will be provided by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, and Jazz musician Jon Batiste. The newly unveiled character art:

Tina Fey as 22

concept art

Forky+

Pixar’s got a new shorts collection debuting on the new streaming service, Disney+, starring Forky! In “Forky Asks a Question,” Tony Hale reprises his role and revealed the other characters who will be joining our favorite spork as he unravels the answers to life’s questions. 

The Forky series will be available on Disney+’s November 12th premiere, but we still have many months to go before Onward and Soul. Looks like the drought is over!

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Pixar has just announced a new movie!

Pete Docter

Posted by Simoa • June 19, 2019

A single tweet. That’s all. Just one tweet about a brand new, never before heard or hinted Pixar film which debuts in theaters exactly one year from today, on June 19th, 2020.

We are getting two Pixar films next year! Both one word titles that involve mystical journeys, although Soul has a more philosophical bent than Onward‘s fantasy adventure. Oh man. It’s so cryptic! Just a simple logo with the lofty goal of answering life’s most important questions. Which are not simple! Here is one question I have: who is the heroine of this story? Please tell me Soul has a female lead.

A longer description from The Wrap:

Ever wonder where your passion, your dreams and your interests come from? What is it that makes you… YOU? In 2020, Pixar Animation Studios takes you on a journey from the streets of New York City to the cosmic realms to discover the answers to life’s most important questions.

And guess what? Pete Docter is directing! His first film as Pixar’s Chief Creative Officer and his first since Inside Out, which coincidentally turns four today! The similarities to the former film are undeniable. First we were in the mind, now we are venturing to the soul.

There does seem to be another connection to Onward. While that film takes our elven heroes out of a suburb, Soul will leave the streets of New York city. Existential pondering leading us out of the places we know  that can sometimes be a bit stifling into the unknown. At least that’s my take on it.

Let us know what you think! We will update this post with any more details and will be doing lots of Soul searching in the coming year!

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Domee Shi: Pixar’s Newest Source of Creative Power

Bao, Domee Shi, Pete Docter, Shorts

Posted by Joanna • November 29, 2018

It was recently revealed that Domee Shi will be directing a feature length film for Pixar Studios.

Domee Shi, best known for directing Pixar’s newest short “Bao”, has been fuelling the studio’s movies with fun and creativity for a number of years now. She started out as an intern, contributed to Inside Out, The Good Dinosaur, and Incredibles 2 as a storyboard artist, then had her directorial debut as the first female director of a Pixar short, which received an overwhelmingly positive response for several reasons. Firstly, “Bao” is wonderful. It beautifully represents Domee Shi’s Chinese-Canadian background while still depicting a very universal message. It’s also a sign of a great leap forward for Pixar and the animation industry as a whole to not only see a female director, but a female director who is actively bringing more diversity onto our screens, and in such a heartfelt and personal way.

(Photo by Deborah Coleman / Pixar)

Shi was recently interviewed by Deadline, and the interview as a whole really fills you with confidence about Pixar’s future. There are some very important and exciting things to be taken away from this chat with Shi, the most obvious one being that Shi is working on a new feature length film for the studio! This is huge. Only one Pixar film has been directed by a woman (Brenda Chapman for Brave), and she was replaced by Mark Andrews midway through the film’s development.

 “We’re just developing the story for it right now,” Shi says. “It’s super early on, but I’m really excited to play in this new 90-minute film format.”

Shi originally had to pitch three different ideas for a Pixar short, so it’s clear that she has plenty of imagination to offer. Shorts are often more experimental in their stories, concepts, and character designs, but here’s hoping that Shi’s experience as a short director stands her in good stead for creating a unique feature film for us to look forward to.

Completely charming concept art for “Bao” by Domee Shi

It’s also incredibly encouraging to hear how Domee Shi feels about Pete Docter’s new role in the company, and how she’s excited about the studio’s future. Pete Docter was officially named as Chief Creative Officer for Pixar Animation Studios this June, and this was pretty much unanimously met with enthusiasm – Docter’s films (Monsters Inc., Up, Inside Out) are seen as many as some of ‘Pixar’s best’. It’s comforting to hear that within the company he is viewed as a good mentor, a “humble and down to earth” man, and someone who values creativity and diversity.

We’ll leave you with these particularly heartwarming quotes, but the full interview is definitely a worthy read.

“I think [Pete Docter]’s always been a huge supporter of unique voices at the studio. You can tell he’s really curious and interested in different types of stories, different types of characters—and he always wants to try new things.

 

“I feel like Bao was a pretty huge example, for me, that Pixar is fully behind supporting diverse storytellers. I think Sanjay’s Super Team and Coco were the two other films at Pixar that really helped pave the way for Bao to be made, and because those two productions were done before Bao, it gave me confidence, knowing that Bao isn’t just going to be a trend, or a blip.”

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Lasseter Out, Docter In – Pete Docter Named As Pixar’s New Chief Creative Officer

Pete Docter

Posted by Joanna • June 19, 2018

It’s official – Pete Docter has been named as the new Chief Creative Officer for Pixar Animation Studios.

John Lasseter announced he was taking a six month leave of absence at the end of last year, following sexual misconduct allegations. He has since stepped down from his role as Chief Creaitve Officer, and will leave the studio at the end of this year.

The news that Lasseter was leaving Pixar was largely met with relief, but also concern about who Pixar would choose to fill the position. Pete Docter has been up there with the most likely contenders ever since the disappointing news first broke out last November. The director of Monsters Inc, Up, and Inside Out, Docter has been with the studio for 28 years and we feel that the future of the company couldn’t be in better hands. Read his official statement below:

“I started here 28 years ago. I am fortunate to work alongside some of the most talented people on the planet, and together we will keep pushing animation in new directions, using the latest technology to tell stories we hope will surprise and delight audiences around the world.”

© Deborah Coleman, Pixar

Jennifer Lee has also been named as the Chief Creative Officer for Disney Animation Studios. Lee and Docter will jointly take on Lasseter’s old role.

Whenever a new Pete Docter-directed Pixar movie is announced, a huge amount of excitement always follows. The fact that Docter has now been named chief creative officer for Pixar Studios conjures up this same feeling of excitement for the company’s future – let’s hope Pixar’s story from here on out is as positive and uplifting as Docter’s beautifully woven stories that we’ve been introduced to throughout his career.

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In Depth: Why These Female Pixar Characters Mean So Much To Me

30 Years of Pixar, A Bug's Life, Brad Bird, Brave, Brenda Chapman, Cars 3, Finding Dory, Finding Nemo, Pete Docter, Pixar Heroines, The Incredibles, The Incredibles 2

Posted by Nia • October 20, 2017

It’s been over two weeks since the New York Times article on Harvey Weinstein was published and the dam finally burst in Hollywood. It seems almost unbearable to comprehend all the allegations that are still stacking up against Weinstein, not to mention the plethora of other men in the industry and beyond. The “me too” movement on social media has also shown a disturbing amount of women who have been sexually harassed and assaulted by co-workers, friends, and family members.

This past week I’ve found it hard to focus and carry on with my life, job, and day-to-day activities.  It’s empowering seeing women come together, but also distressing to learn how it’s happened to us all, one way or another.

I needed inspiration and I needed something to lift my spirits up so I turned to what I know best to help me in troubled times: Pixar films.

Over the years not only has Pixar produced some of the greatest animated films of all time, but they’ve also created some of the strongest and most relatable female characters in the business. I was going to try and talk about all of them, but then realized how long the post would be (actually this would make a wonderful book some day). Instead, I decided to pick my three most important female characters and share why they mean so much to me both as a woman, and as a professional working in the animation industry.

Merida

Brave came out at a perfect time in my life, I was a sophomore in college and I was struggling with trying to figure out exactly what I wanted to do. I was feeling the pressure of comparing myself to other people my age; be it with work, relationships, and even school.  I was even feeling pressure from certain family members about my love life and if I was going to be getting married anytime soon (this is a true story for any Greek woman).

Then Merida arrived, with her ridiculous hair goals, amazing horse-riding skills, and sassiness I wish I had when I was a teenager.

Merida broke the mold when it came to princesses – she had her own goals and her own motivations that she wanted to achieve in life, even if it went completely against what her family has wanted for generations. She didn’t care what her family thought and she was ready to fight against her mom if it meant being able to do what SHE wanted to do in life. Maybe she didn’t really have any dreams or goals at the moment, and that was OK – as long as she wasn’t stuck being a princess and fitting the mold, then she was content. That was Merida’s life, and she wanted to pursue those dreams of being free and exploring the countryside with her horse.

I also really appreciated how independent she was and how she didn’t need romance in her life to be successful. She was content with being alone, even if that meant being isolated from her own family or off in the forest basking in her solitude, that didn’t matter to her; she didn’t need a man in her life to tell her what to do or to be content.

I was the biggest tomboy growing up, I got dirty rolling around and play fighting and spent most afternoons playing sports with the other kids. But I still liked to dress up and get pretty; that didn’t mean I had to do it all the time. I really appreciated how Merida didn’t always need to be pretty or dainty or wear fancy dresses and spend her time curtsying to all the men; she wanted to roll around in the mud, dance in the rain, ride on horseback, climb mountains, and shoot arrows. I loved that adventurous side of her and I loved that she didn’t let anyone tame her.

I wish I had Merida to look up to when I was that young tomboy.

 Cruz Ramirez

It’s a shame Pixar wasn’t able to create a character like Cruz until now. She is one of the better things to come from this summer’s Cars 3 release and she might actually be one of my all-time favorite characters now.

Like Merida, I wish I had someone like Cruz to look up to when I was growing up and dreaming about coming to work in the animation industry in Los Angeles.

What I love the most about Cruz is that she showed me it doesn’t matter where you were born or who your family is, if you set your mind to what you want to achieve in life then you can fulfill your dreams.

People might keep telling you no, no, no; and you might continue to get rejection letter after rejection letter, but you have to keep going, to keep pushing forwards; hearing no or getting a rejection letter does not mean you’ve failed, but giving up does. It’s okay to have doubts, to feel bad about yourself, but you can still carry on and push forwards.

I also really loved the signal she sent to boys and girls alike, how it’s OK to be a girl and be really interested in boy things (like racing cars) or vice versa. In a typical male dominated world, it’s important to show young children that you can do whatever you want; it doesn’t matter if you’re a boy or a girl.

Cruz is the type of female character we need in film and TV now – a woman who stands up for herself, who goes against the norm, and who never gives up her dreams when obstacles are in the way.

Helen Parr AKA Elastigirl 

Helen is important to me, not only because I’ve always dreamed of being a superhero and kicking all sorts of butt, but because she’s a wonderful mother and person to look up to.

At the start of The Incredibles she’s living a pretty normal life, only having to deal with the typical mom duties that come with any parent. But soon it’s clear that Helen can balance both the mom and superhero life when she’s forced to follow and rescue her husband, Bob Parr AKA Mr. Incredible, when he’s off trying to deal with his midlife crisis.

It turns out that Helen actually saves her husband, brings her family closer together, and in turn, is a huge part in actually saving the world from the supervillain Syndrome. Where would we be without her? I’m really excited for The Incredibles 2 and having some more focus on Helen; which is a good sign that Pixar is definitely moving in the right direction regarding female characters.

One of my favorite things about Helen is that she doesn’t take crap from anyone, not her husband, children, or even Edna. She wasn’t about to sit around and wait for her husband to come home, making up different stories in her head as to why he’s been acting so strange lately. She was also not afraid to go against the societal norms at the time and take things into her own hands – she had every right to know what her husband was doing and to go and find him.

Helen is the type of woman and mom I aspire to be one day, with her, anything is possible. She gives me the confidence that I can balance both my work and home life completely if I chose to go down that path.  I work in the animation industry and have hopes of gaining as much experience as I can and moving on to different studios and jobs in the future. Thanks to Helen, I know that I don’t need to wait around for anyone to make the right decisions for me, and it’s possible to have a family and a career at the same time and be happy.

Each female Pixar character has taught me something different about myself throughout the years. What I love most about Pixar films, and the female characters they create, is that they provide a plethora of diverse characters from all ranges of life. Yes, fish and robots and superheroes are all incredibly different, but when you look at the stories that surround each character, and the struggles each woman (or ant) has to overcome, it’s all universal.

Who are some of your favorite Pixar female characters? And why are they so important to you?

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