Following Pixar’s latest Oscar win for Best Animated Feature, fans are in for another treat within the world of Soul. Directed by Pete Docter and Kemp Powers, the wide release of Soul was an unprecedented one. Debuting on Disney+ at no extra fee in time for the holidays last year, the film brought so many moviegoers together within the limitations of quarantine. With such an accomplishment, its Oscar win comes to no surprise. Many will now be inspired to revisit the film, or even watch for the first time. Whether it be your first or fourth screening, Disney+ will now have a fresh surprise queued as the credits roll: 22 vs Earth.
Aside from their feature films, Pixar is widely known for producing captivating stories in the form of shorts. The shorts normally attached before their feature-length films in theaters are the most well-known, always telling a completely separate story from the film you just paid to see. However, their tie-in shorts are just as fantastic, filling in gaps and answering questions from the films that you never thought of. Mike’s New Car, Jack-Jack Attack, Riley’s First Date? – all memorable additions to their own unique worlds, soon to be joined by 22 vs Earth.
Coming off our exclusive sit down with Soul director and Pixar chief Pete Docter, we were invited to a roundtable interview to discuss everything related to 22 vs Earth with director Kevin Nolting. Having worked in the editorial department at Pixar for almost two decades, Nolting is known for serving as the main editor on Docter’s last 3 films: Up, Inside Out, and now Soul. This latest short marks only his second time as a director. To get a better idea, Nolting takes us to the beginning of how this project came to be.
Kevin Nolting: “[22 vs Earth] falls in the tradition of the DVD shorts with Pixar, you know, a little short based on the feature for an extra, which Disney+ is kind enough to keep the tradition. So there were different ideas pitched and then this one landed. But more than that, as we were making Soul, we explore Joe Gardner’s life in great detail; his family, his friends, his world, his past.
And 22 we just [show] in the present. We do little snippets with the mentors but other than that we don’t explore too much about why she is the person she is, or the soul she is. And we joked about it a lot, we made up a lot of stories. So the short was a great way to just take one aspect of that and explore.”
22 vs Earth may follow Pixar tradition, but it’s one of the few tie-ins to actually take place before the feature (most take place after or concurrently). This Pixar short is also the second tie-in exclusive to Disney+, following Lamp Life which can also be considered a prequel of sorts as it reveals Bo Peep’s whereabouts prior to Toy Story 4, but is still a retelling that takes place after the events of the film. 22 vs Earth is more of a direct prequel, showing 22 (once again voiced by Tina Fey) getting caught in hi-jinks before meeting Joe Gardner.
Taking place in the Great Before, 22 tries to convince a small team of immature souls to join her in rejecting the call to humanity. Choosing this route over a direct continuation may seem odd, as Soul ends with 22’s fate on Earth unclear. But this was completely intentional according to Nolting:
Kevin Nolting: “As we were making Soul, there were even a couple scenes actually storyboarded where we saw where  ended up. Ultimately, it just wasn’t satisfying and it wasn’t really part of the story at that point. Personally, I find it more satisfying to explore where she came from, rather than where she went. Because no matter where we put her in the world, in what situation, not everyone’s going to be satisfied. I just imagine where she would be rather than being told a specific thing myself.”
Ensuring that these shorts feel like a natural extension of their original films is perhaps the most crucial part of the process, but luckily for Nolting, he and Docter have a tight relationship going back years. He goes into further detail on how collaborative Docter was and what he learned from him as a long-time editor shifting into the director’s chair.
Kevin Nolting: “Pete was involved all along, I would always send him versions of the [short] and get his feedback. But more specifically, I had never directed animation before… and he is probably the best director of animation there is. So I turned to him just for insights on how to direct animation.
In one way, it wasn’t that big of a jump because in animation, especially a Pixar, the editor works so closely with the director from pre-production through the final mix. So I’ve sort of had this front row seat, I’ve watched Pete direct for 15 years and learned from that. Editors, by definition, are very judgmental… so being a director and being the one [who is now] judged is a good lesson for anybody I think.”
22 vs Earth went through the expected production process until the pandemic took its unexpected toll on the film industry. Nolting revealed that there were only two brief storyboard meetings in person before lockdowns took place, leaving the whole rest of the project to be completed from home. But through these hurdles, the short now arrives mere days after Soul‘s Oscar win, and on a major streaming platform in a time where many regions are still practicing strict social distancing. When asked on just how timely this release is, Nolting was grateful of the odds landing in their favor.
Kevin Nolting: “It wasn’t planned that way because when we started this short, in February of 2020, Soul was going to be released in June, in theaters. It wouldn’t be on Disney+ for another [6 months] after that. So there was no ‘grand plan’, things unfolded with COVID the way they did, and it just happened to work out to our advantage.”
Nolting does hope that the Oscar win will inspire more and more people to discover 22 vs Earth, and this seems to be the case as the popularity of Disney+ grows by the day. One final tidbit for the fans, we asked which of the classic Pixar shorts Nolting was inspired by or favors the most, and he chose one of the best.
Kevin Nolting: “The most inspiring short for me, it’s not one of the DVD shorts, but For the Birds is the one that I always go back to, my personal favorite.”