Pixar’s movies have a way of appealing to an array of emotions. Who can ever forget the memorable beginning sequence of 2009’s Up displaying the sunrise and set of a loving relationship? Or 2015’s Inside Out, where a young, teenage girl has to deal with her core emotions during a hard move. The beauty of Pixar films is that they show these universal questions that humans have, but in a way where adults and kids can meet in the middle. Whether it be a loss, the meaning of companionship, and change. Soul brings about two motifs that we all face down; legacy and purpose. We all have something that drives us and gives us a reason to look forward to seizing the day. We can feel so lost without it. The tool of purpose is fantastic to have, and it can be something that shapes your legacy. Is there a point where life gets too mired in purpose to where you can’t stop and smell the roses?
Joe Gardner (Jamie Foxx) is a middle school music teacher and pianist with an undying love for jazz music. He is certain that his purpose in life is to play in a jazz band. It’s what lights him up and gives him purpose. One day, through his former student, Curley (Questlove), Joe gets a chance to play in the famed band of Dorothea Williams (Angela Bassett). However, there’s one problem – he gets into an accident, and his soul separates from his body. From there, he goes to The Great Beyond, and The Great Before – a place where soul counselors all named Jerry (Alice Braga, Richard Ayoade) help new souls assign their personalities. He meets a soul named 22 (Tina Fey) who wants absolutely nothing to do with the living experience. With an odd-couple setup, they both have to discover what the meaning of life is in a way that will bring about some laughs and emotional epiphanies.
Co-directors Kemp Powers and Pete Docter do an exemplary job at not only diving into the fantasy aspect of the afterlife, but the bustling parts of urban New York. You venture everywhere from the subway, to the barbershop, and a dimly lit jazz club. For this to be Pixar’s first African-American led film (long overdue), the culture, legacy of jazz music, and the generational love of Black families are well represented. The animation depicts the otherworldly aspects of Soul in an abstract, dreamy but also levels it out with the impressive lifelike aspects of the real world. Soundtrack duties get shared by the team of Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross with stylings from Jon Batiste. All parties work together to blend the electronic, and sometimes beautifully tranquil piano with the hypnotizing and intricate scales of jazz music.
The best thing about Soul is its story, where it’s a lot more layered than at first glance. Joe’s music dream runs up against real-world pressures from society. Mainly, his mother Libba (Phylicia Rashad) wants the absolute best for him, but desires for Joe to settle into stability over his dreams. This movie speaks to the dreamer in all of us. Sometimes, the vision can be so real to you, it looks farfetched to others. You become hyper-focused to make it happen. Once Joe and 22 come together, they help each other discover that the minutia of life – the small moments are just as important. There are beautiful flashbacks that happen throughout the film where you see the origin of Joe’s love for jazz music – introduced by his father, in particular. While you may desire more time to investigate more of Joe’s background, the movie provides just enough through conversation and visuals to get the gist.
A deeper message lives within Soul that lend itself to the maelstrom of a year we’ve had. Many of us have had our lives upended, turned upside down, and shaken. The conventional 9-to-5, go to an office, and come home template has changed. Soul‘s inclusion on Disney+ works to its benefit, as the entire family can have proper time to get something out of this movie. Kids will have questions about the afterlife and speak about things they love the most. Parents may go on an inner journey to discover what their spark is and pay that forward. Together, we can all remember that everything added together makes a complete and fulfilled life.
Photo Credit: Disney/Pixar