Meet the real NYC music teacher who inspired Disney-Pixar's 'Soul'

BySandy Kenyon via KTRK logo
Wednesday, January 13, 2021
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Sandy Kenyon interviews Dr. Peter Archer, the retired New York City music teacher who inspired Disney-Pixar's "Soul."

NEW YORK CITY -- The New York Daily News calls Dr. Peter Archer the "heart" behind the new Disney-Pixar movie "Soul," and that's no exaggeration.

Dr. Archer retired last June after 34 years as a teacher, and he calls his work on the film the perfect ending to his long career.

In "Soul," a music teacher from Queens named Joe Gardner is brought to life by animators from Pixar and the unique voice of Jamie Foxx.

He plays a fictional character, but he is based on a very real teacher.

"The movie starts in my classroom," Dr. Archer said.

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He taught at Nathaniel Hawthorne Middle School 74 in Bayside for decades, inspiring generations of students, but he was surprised to get an e-mail from Pete Docter, the director of "Soul," inviting him to the Pixar campus in Northern California.

"Pete repeatedly asked us, 'Did I get this right? Is this correct?'" he said.

Members of Docter's team traveled to Dr. Archer's classroom to take photos and measurements, and the result is a real-life depiction.

"It's very close actually," Dr. Archer said. "They did a fantastic job."

The veteran educator's influence didn't stop there.

"My passion as a musician is just to play, same as Joe Gardner," he said. "And I think I found my spark, my love, if you will, my love for education, by accident."

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In "Soul" much is made of trying to help others find their spark.

"That's what resonated with me so deeply," Dr. Archer said.

It resonated so deeply because he felt that Gardner's arc was his arc.

"It was such a joy teaching all those years," he said. "And for this to have happened was the perfect coda."

Dr. Archer said the response from his former students has been "overwhelming and positive," and some of those former students have kids of their own now and wrote him to express their gratitude and say he was the perfect choice to bring "Soul" to life.

The movie is on Disney+, owned by the same parent company as this ABC station.