December 24, 2020

CINEMA | A Jazzy Afterlife – Pixar's 'Soul' Meets Body

"There's a soul missing."
Jamie Foxx Tina Fey | Disney Pixar Soul
Walt Disney Pictures / Pixar Animation Studios
Pixar Animation creative head Pete Docter delves further into the soft mechanics of human experience for another life-affirming animated embodiment of our very being. Soul uses jazz music and the nature of existence to rethink what it is to live and have a purpose. Through glowing orbs visualizing said souls and humorous riffs on everyday life, the existentially warm film sure feels pleasing and surprisingly adult.

Starring the voice of Jamie Foxx of a wannabe jazz pianist turned middle school band teacher, Joe Gardner, we quickly get into a surface-level story about following your dreams. What follows is a fairly philosophical dive into the appreciation of experiencing life and the bridge between living, dying, and the afterlife. Tina Fey plays counterpoint to Foxx's buttoned-up demeanour by vocalizing a combative would-be soul, named "22", who refuses to make their way into a body on Earth. Their fun dynamic together makes for the bulk of the film's core and heart while the voices of Questlove, Phylicia Rashad, Angela Bassett, and others pop in and out to add to the fun.

Written by Docter, Mike Jones, and playwright Kemp Powers (also credited as co-director), Soul's script provides a basic in-between afterlife structure—not unlike Ghost, Heaven Can Wait, or other like-minded "soulful" comedies. Aside from the jazzy music the characters play, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross' ethereal musical score gives an eerie yet inviting sound to really contextualize the "Great Before" (what they call the area before the "Great Beyond" afterlife) and the bureaucratic process of organizing souls. However, it's disappointing how the Black characters become sidelined when Joe almost immediately travels out of his body before someone else, voiced by a white performer, takes over.

Pixar has made another inventive tale about the essence of being by using traditional animated storytelling to layer ideas about existence and a purpose to living. Disguised as a film about jazz and general musical appreciation, Soul is so very warm in how it visualizes its ideas about death, purpose, and finding your own meaning in life. It happens to also superbly insert more than enough broad situational humour wrapped in a sweetly philosophical message of exisential midlife crisis.

Soul is available to stream on Disney+.

More | YVArcade / AV Club / Indiewire / io9

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