'Soul' editor Kevin Nolting: 'No, 22 is not Riley from 'Inside Out'

'Soul' prequel '22 vs Earth' is Nolting's directorial debut

In Pixar Animation Studios’ “22 vs. Earth,” new soul 22 (voice of Tina Fey) defies the rules of The Great Before and refuses to go to Earth, enlisting other new souls in her attempt at rebellion. Set before the events of Disney and Pixar’s “Soul,” “22 vs. Earth” is directed by Kevin Nolting and produced by Lourdes Alba. © 2021 Disney/Pixar. All Rights Reserved.
Beta V.1.0 - Powered by automated translation

While at the start of last week Soul picked up the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature Film in Los Angeles, at the weekend, the film's prequel, 22 vs Earth, allowed fans to learn a little more about how the character 22 became an Earthaphobe.

The short film reunites Soul lead editor Kevin Nolting with Tina Fey's Earth-hating 22. For good measure, it also takes a light-hearted stab at solving the mystery of the meaning of life in the process.

The film is Nolting's directorial debut. For him, 22 vs Earth was a simple case of being in the right place at the right time. "Traditionally these shorts go to the head of story on the film because the editor is usually still working on the movie when these things are made," he explains.

"But in this case the head of story was already in development on another feature. She'd sort of done this and was moving on to the next thing, and I just happened to be in the room when we were talking about the short. So it worked out that as we finished Soul, I was lucky enough to get to do this. I guess that's the advantage of being an editor. You're usually in the right room."

Nolting, who joined Pixar in 2000 as a second editor on Finding Nemo, says he'd grown fond of Fey's mischievous character over the three years or so that he was working on Soul, and he jumped at the chance to get to know her a little better."As we were making the movie we really explored the character of Joe in depth. With 22, we just sort of picked her up where we pick her up and we didn't have to pursue it so we didn't, but we had a lot of conversations about what made 22 into 22.

“I really relate to her cynicism and her doubting everything and questioning everything. Joe is the sort of guy who has known from a young age what he wants to do. I’m more like 22. It took me a long time stumbling around before I found what I wanted to do, so I really relate to that character.”

In Pixar Animation Studios’ “22 vs. Earth,” new soul 22 (voice of Tina Fey) enlists a gang of five other new souls in her efforts to avoid going to Earth. Set before the events of Disney and Pixar’s “Soul,” “22 vs. Earth” is directed by Kevin Nolting and produced by Lourdes Alba. © 2021 Disney/Pixar. All Rights Reserved.

The new film joins 22 in The Great Before, where souls are trained ahead of their journey to Earth to inhabit human bodies. 22, tired of seeing her friends snatched away to make the trip, recruits a small army of impressionable young souls in an attempt to overthrow the system and end the exodus of souls to the “rock” she so despises.

With its sub-10-minute run time and cliffhanger ending, the film seems likely to leave fans wanting more of 22, so could we see her in her own feature-length adventure, especially in light of the huge success of Soul?
"I hope so. There's no immediate plans to extend this, but I'm sure Pixar know what they're doing," Nolting
teases. "The timing is the thing, especially with a short that's based on the feature. As departments wrapped on the feature, we would quickly grab people while the sets were still live, so to speak, and use people who were familiar with the movie. We'd literally just jump in and grab people and do the short while we had this window. The timing has been amazing with the Academy Award, though to be honest, I would have preferred waiting because I was still editing Soul."

Film Editor Kevin Nolting is photographed on August 7, 2014 at Pixar Animation Studios in Emeryville, Calif. (Photo by Deborah Coleman / Pixar)

And it wouldn’t be the internet era if there weren’t already some wild fan theories about 22 already doing the rounds, even before her next animated adventure has been released.

Ever since Disney seemed to confirm that all Pixar movies exist in a shared cinematic universe with an Easter-egg-heavy Instagram post in February last year, fans have loved coming up with theories of varying degrees of credibility linking one film or character to another.

Among the most popular theories surrounding the character of 22 is that on finally leaving The Great Before and heading to Earth at the end of Soul, she becomes Riley, the emotionally vulnerable lead from 2015's Inside Out. On its simplest level, the theory notes that Soul and Inside Out were directed by Pixar regular Pete Docter, and both characters like pizza and share certain personality traits. Having now directed one film about our heroine and edited another, few people can know 22 better than Nolting, and it seems he's going to put a bit of a dampener on the conspiracy theories.

“Well I never heard that one,” he admits. “I mean, I guess it’s nice that people are into it that much that they have all these theories, but I have to say that I don’t have them myself.”

He seems almost apologetic as he puts the theory to bed, but he shouldn't feel too guilty – now we know more about who 22 isn't, we can learn more about who she is with 22 vs Earth.

22 vs Earth is on Disney+ via OSN now