Have you ever looked at your choice of clothes, the way you style your hair, your likes, and dislikes or your food choices, and wondered, “why am I this way?” Personality is often considered a genetic trait but then there are those moments that are exclusively all you. Have you ever wondered, what is it that makes you…YOU?
Pixar Animation Studios’ all-new feature film Soul explores and celebrates what makes people so special. Their upcoming animated adventure takes us on a journey to before-life and more through the beauty of music, sights, and tastes.
We meet Joe Gardner (voiced by Jamie Foxx) – a public middle-school band teacher who has a passion for jazz. Joe wants more than anything to become a professional jazz pianist, but life has steered him in the direction of teaching. He’s an excellent and caring teacher but it’s just not his passion. So when he’s offered a rare, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to play with one of his favorite bands (led by Angela Bassett and featuring Questlove), Joe feels he’s reached the top of the ultimate mountain.
Joe is stuck and while he is committed to his students, you can tell that he longs for more. He puts his students ahead of himself and as a result, he missed out on many career-defining opportunities. Music to him is more than just sounds. It’s his happy place and when he’s there he’s in “the zone” a dimension where he connects to the music and nothing else matters. This opportunity is more than a “gig” it’s his…zone.
But one small misstep where he falls into an open manhole while crossing the city street takes him from the streets of New York City to The Great Before –a fantastical place where new souls get their personalities, quirks, and interests before they go to Earth as human newborns.
Joe goes from a fully formed middle-aged man to a blueish lively spirit…or a soul, desperate to get back into his body and the jazz show which he hopes it can change his life. However, getting back to his body is not that easy. Through a series of events, Joe finds himself paired with 22 (voiced by Tina Fey), an experienced soul (ever hear of the expression ‘an old soul’) who has no interest in being a human or ever going to earth. It is at this moment that Joe takes it upon himself to show 22 the beauties of Earth, being a human, and introducing 22 to a world filled with many possibilities. However, 22 is determined and set in its ways to not become a human. Can Joe crack through 22’s hilarious cynical personality? Can 22 teach Joe something about himself?
Simply put, Soul is the best movie of the year and just might be one of Pixar’s best movies ever. While Pixar only screened 40 minutes of the movie to the press, from the opening sequence you can feel the magic on the screen and know this journey has never been traveled.
Pixar has the ability to take a standard story of teaming two polar opposite personalities and setting them off on an adventure. We’ve seen this with the Toy Story franchise, UP, Finding Nemo, and more but what Pixar has mastered is the ability to make their characters complex, beautiful and transport its audience to a world where toys come to life, fishes deal with lost and an annoying kid can help us through the grieving process. Tina Fey is delightfully hilarious as 22 who may be holding back on life due to fear which couples well with Jamie Foxx’s warmth as Joe and his desire to live life.
The world of Soul is no different. Featuring some of the best visuals in animation, these characters and the world(s) they live in are breathtaking, addictive, imaginative, and inspiring. Never before has a series of straight lines looked so cool.
Soul is Pixar’s first film with an African-American protagonist and cast. Joe is an everyday man where everyone can relate to his story. He never came from riches and had to work hard for his dreams. But dreams (like everything else) cost money but with the support of his mother (voiced by Phylicia Rashad), he works hard to accomplish them. There’s a bond between Joe and his mother as we get scenes filled with moments of life where his mother constantly shows him love and support. It’s emotional but never forced. It is at this moment that we see the impact she has on his life despite his life amounting to just hopes and dreams and we understand why Joe is so determined to get back to his body. It’s heartbreaking and somber.
Soul is an experience that celebrates the creative arts. From mindblowing 2D and 3D animation (the 2D renderings in the Great Beyond scenes are astonishing) to the crisp coloring of New York City, it is a movie that requires multiple viewings just to catch all the artistic details.
Then there’s the music which is easily one of the main characters of the story. What Randy Newman did for the Toy Story franchise, Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross and jazz musician Jon Baptiste do for Soul by creating music to feed your ears with their original pieces.
Soul is a movie with attitude, finesse, and beauty and is unlike anything you have ever seen and Pixar has ever created. Pushing the visual, spiritual, musical envelope they have proven once again why its best to take chances but to always stick to what they do best: provide a deeply impactful and relatable story that’ll always have its audience looking inward for the answers.