Soul (2020)

“Don’t worry, they’re fine. You can’t crush a soul here. That’s what life on Earth is for.”“Don’t worry, they’re fine. You can’t crush a soul here. That’s what life on Earth is for.”

“Don’t worry, they’re fine. You can’t crush a soul here. That’s what life on Earth is for.”

It’s clear where Disney/Pixar focused most of their effort’s and money out of the two new releases planned last year. That’s not to say Onward is a bust or in poorer quality than SoulOnward is just as great and emotional a film Pixar has put out. Once the world got a taste of what Soul would be, the difference was made abundantly clear. Soul would be the blockbuster of the summer making most of the money for the studio while Onward released in a less favorable month of the year.  

Of course, due to forces beyond anyone’s control, Soul suffered at the wrath of the pandemic and lockdown having its release date pushed back over and over in anticipation of theaters reopening. But not all theaters reopened and the ones that did, opened with a lower capacity to prevent the spread of the pandemic for the safety of the patrons that attend movie theaters on a regular basis. The obvious choice for Disney is to debut the anticipated feature on Disney Plus with no extra cost than what the audience is already paying. Mulan backfired on Disney with the extra fee to watch so the decision to make Soul available without an extra fee is deemed to be the smarter decision.

Struggling Jazz musician and part time teacher Joe Gardner (Jamie Foxx) is given the opportunity of a lifetime when called upon to play for Dorothea Williams’ (Angela Bassett) band right after getting a full-time position to teach. Faced with the dilemma and living his dream, Joe chooses to play in the band but falls into a manhole cover and enters the Great Beyond. Reluctant to accept his death before his dream is realized, Joe enters the Great Before and sneaks his way back to his body with the assistance of 22 (Tina Fey) a soul who has yet to find its purpose or spark to become human. With the assistance of Moonwind (Graham Norton) both Joe and 22 find their true purpose’s in life.

“Poor fellow. Some people just can’t let go of their own anxieties and obsessions, leaving them lost and disconnected from life. And this is the result.”

One of Disney/Pixar’s strength is delivering a fully realized film with relatable characters that we can all see similar qualities in that is for both children and adults. Joe for instance, like countless others is a dream chaser – there is nothing that anyone or anything can do to keep him from his dream of being a Jazz pianist. The thought of settling for less than he feels he deserves is not an option for him.  Not a lot can change a dreamer’s mind especially if it’s their passion in life and their true belief that this is what they were meant to do. 

Right from the start Soul dives deep into the existential themes about death and its inevitably. At any point, death can come for us no matter how careful we may be. In Joe’s case, death came for him the moment he feels his dream is fully realized. Death is something we can’t run from, eventually every single person will pass on, but Joe is so set in his ways that he uses all his might to escape it. He is so removed from life at this point that he can’t see the value in life until he meets 22. 

What is the meaning of life? How do you find your purpose and where you belong? Are we actually born with a spark or a purpose that will determine the rest of our lives and in turn will that make it a fulfilling life of meaning and purpose? Soul understands how tough these questions can be to most people. Some believe they were put on this earth for a reason while others spend years searching for the answer and coming up with no explanation for it.

“Then I don’t want to eat. This isn’t about my career, mom. It’s my reason for living. And I know dad felt the same way. I’m just afraid that if I died today, that my life would’ve amounted to nothing.”

The purpose of living is finding that specific passion and following your heart regardless of the odds stacked against you. Soul explores that plus discovering the ability to actually live. Being alive doesn’t mean you’re living, and it takes a character who has no desire to become human to bring that realization to Joe. Becoming human is overrated to 22 especially after seeing Joe’s memories and how different they are from a third person perspective. The dream Joe has been chasing doesn’t make him happy at all even though that is what he tells himself makes him happy.

It’s the little things in life where 22 finds its purpose. Eating a New York slice would do the trick for just about anyone to realize life is worth living. Even animated, New York pizza looks delicious. 

Pixar’s animation has always been at the forefront of the industry and Soul is no different. The beautiful colors of the Great Beyond and Before are hypnotizing with different animation styles and character designs while the animation captures the heart and soul of New York City perfectly. Darker, cooler tones of purple and blue that embody a Jazz performance steals the attention in the club scenes making it feel like you’re actually there. 

Leave it to Pixar to make a seemingly simple story more complex than one could image. Writer director Pete Doctor loves to crush us emotionally and mentally. Ripping our hearts out with Up in the first few minutes to asking questions about what makes us human on an emotional level with Inside Out to now finding the true meaning of life is heavy stuff for films that are mostly aimed toward a younger audience. 

Even with it’s more adult themes, Soul can still be enjoyed by a younger audience thanks to the classic Pixar comedy and and lighthearted characters.

Just like Buzz and Woody or Mike and Sully, Joe and 22 have this unexpected bond that brings them together. Without realizing it, Joe has this influence on 22 when they body swap (Or when Joe becomes a cat) that finally gives 22 its purpose to be sent to earth more so than some of the famous mentors that failed 22 in the past. The Title of Soul fits the film and characters perfectly since both souls are lost and they help each other find their respective purposes on Earth.

Just as Coco is a love letter to Mexican heritage, its rich history and use of Mariachi music, Soul is an ode to R&B and Jazz. The music is infused in every scene giving Soul an authentic feeling to it. The moment the Disney Castle is shown with the out of tune music playing, it’s easy to realize Disney and Pixar understand their target audience. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross capture the spirit and lifestyle Jazz music emits while staying true to the genre.

It’s hard to believe that Soul is the first Pixar story to feature predominately black characters and frankly its about time. Jamie Foxx is the easy choice and gives a strong performance as Joe as he has the charisma and passion to bring this character to life. 

Soul is an ambitious journey to places that were never thought to be possible in an animated film. It asks so many tough questions while exploring a person’s true purpose in life and what makes them special to be alive. With an industry that loves to create franchises and sequels, Soul is a breath of fresh air of originality. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’s score is beautiful to listen to and captures the essence of Rhythm and Blues and the animation is some of the best in recent memory. If I were to rate Soul, I’d rate it a 5 out of 5. 

So, tell me, have you seen Soul and if so, what do you think about it? Do you agree or disagree with me? Comment below or send me an email and let me know what you think. 

Soul is directed by Pete Doctor is Rated PG and has an 96% on Rotten Tomatoes. Soul was released on December 25, 2020 and has a runtime of 1 hour and 47 minutes. Soul can be streamed on Disney Plus.

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