In Pixar’s new animated film “Soul”, which premiered this Christmas on Disney+, jazz pianist/schoolteacher Joe Gardner (voiced by Jamie Foxx) struggles with his purpose after an encounter with the afterlife. While Gardner might be animated, a real-life New York City music teacher helped bring him to life.
Peter Archer, who retired last June after more than 30 years as a band teacher at Middle School 74 in Bayside, Queens, served as a consultant on the movie, helping the team at Pixar with almost all they need in terms of the details of a New York City public school to making sure there is a connection between himself and the fictional character Gardner on many levels.
“The movie starts in my classroom at school … it’s a modification, but yes, it’s my room,” 58-year-old Archer told The New York Daily News.
Here’s how the trumpeter and retired teacher got involved in the film.
In 2018, Archer said he received a surprise phone call during class from a Pixar representative, who told him that the company had started working on a film about a middle school band teacher and wanted his input after finding him through their research. Apparently, the chief creative officer of Pixar, Peter Docter, had already sent Archer an email message and had received no response, Archer would later find out from the Pixar representative. Archer initially wondered if he was the right person to consult but he soon realized that his life experiences and those of the fictional character Gardner were no different.
At a point in his life, Archer, just like Gardner, had to decide whether to pursue a career as a professional musician or venture into education. Having graduated from the music program at Queens College, Archer wanted to work with a symphony orchestra. Rather, right after graduation, he was given a part-time internship teaching band at Marie Curie Middle School in Queens.
Though he felt teaching was a “negative stigma of sorts attributed to musicians not able to find employment”, one of his professors told him he will not be bad at it. His mom also encouraged him to take the teaching role and he has since not regretted it. “The fact I was out there and performing at the same time, and the fact I could bring in the reality and make things really interesting for them [the students] … that is so powerful,” Archer said.
He narrated his experiences to Docter and the rest of the team at Pixar and made several trips to their studios in Emeryville, California to help them produce a result that is a real-life depiction. “Pete [Docter] repeatedly asked us, ‘Did I get this right? Is this correct?'” Archer recalled in an interview with ABC13. He said a team from Pixar traveled to his classroom to take photos and measurements in order to get almost everything right. “It’s very close actually,” Archer said. “They did a fantastic job.”
The full-time teacher, who is now retired, has so far received positive responses from his former students who are elated about his role in bringing the film to life. “It was such a joy teaching all those years,” said Archer. “And for this to have happened was the perfect coda.”
“Soul,” which is receiving rave reviews, is Pixar’s 23rd feature film but the first to feature a Black protagonist and predominately Black cast.