A Soulful Experience

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photo by Disney Pixar

Soul follows aspiring musician Joe Gardner as he travels in and out of the soul world to catch his big break.

Pixar is no stranger to tackling topics that other children’s animated movies tend to stray away from. With every new animated blockbuster, Pixar continues to dive deeper into abstract subjects and themes that turn out to be more than what the movie poster implies, like “Inside Out” with its in depth look at human emotions and “Up” with its portrayal of grief and loss. In Pixar’s 2020 animated film “Soul”, they delved into one of the biggest existential questions: “What is the meaning of life?”

“Soul” was released on Dec. 25, exclusively on  Disney+. The movie was directed by Pete Docter, the director of other Pixar hits like “Up” and “Monster’s Inc.,”and follows a struggling musician, Joe Gardner (Jamie Foxx), as he gets his big break. However, after a tragic incident, he is transported out of his body and must find his way back with the help of an unborn soul, 22 (Tina Fey). 

Soul focuses heavily on its two main characters and their individual backgrounds and aspirations. Luckily, these two characters are strong and likeable. Joe Gardner, a down-on-his-luck musician, is passionate and talented as the movie makes it a point to emphasize how intensely he feels about jazz. He is an easy character to relate to, as many people have something they can get absorbed in and ardent about. The other main character, 22, is an unborn soul residing in the You Seminar. She contrasts Joe’s fervent personality with one that is cynical with no passion for any particular hobby or activity. 

This movie excels in diversity, featuring the first African-American lead character in a Pixar animated movie. It does well in conveying Black culture, and while it is not the main focus of the film, it offers a refreshing taste of both city and African-American culture. The animation of the Black characters, especially their hair, was widely appreciated by the Black community following the movie’s release.

The setting of the movie was exciting to see in the trailers, both the bustling and realistic New York City and the surreal soul world were promising places to explore. The scenes that took place in New York City encapsulated the feeling of being in a crazy busy setting while displaying the little joys of living, like pizza, haircuts, and watching leaves fall from trees. The soul world, on the other hand, was underwhelming. The scenes that took place in the soul world were just as fun and full of potential as the city scenes. The abstract imagery is pleasing to the eye, but the world feels limited and unexplored, making it mildly underwhelming in comparison to expectations. It was as if Pixar had dropped a delicious meal in front of the audience, but did not let them eat it. 

The plot of the movie is crammed into a single day, and that is the biggest obstacle the film had to overcome. It did not give the audience time to absorb any of the events happening in front of them. It felt like it was rushing to get from point to point while failing to truly dig deep into the scene’s potential. It gave potential lessons to be learned, but did not allow them to sink in or never truly resolved them. 

The best part of Soul, however, is its breathtaking animation. Pixar is known for its stunning 3D animation, and lives up to its reputation through Soul. The animators transformed traditionally dingy imagery into a pleasing sight to see. The movie did not pull its punches with stylization it gave a more rounded, exaggerated and unrealistic style to its characters. Each of them looked unique, with their own facial structures, body types, and fashion sense, even the background characters. The soul world was also visually stunning, the artists opting for an extremely abstract style which perfectly matches the idea of a place before life where souls are created. It’s disappointing more could not be seen of it. 

The most important part of this movie, however, is not the animation, characters, or setting, but rather the theme. Tackling existentialism and targeting it at children is a bold move, especially when you aim to answer the meaning of life. It is a lot to take into account, and this movie certainly made it confusing to find the answer. The film stated that the meaning of life was not your passion or your personality, but the little things like watching the sunrise or leaves on a tree or eating pizza.

There is appreciation to be had for this movie to address this topic, and it addressed it in a mature and not too on-the-nose way. It was an interesting theme that is not seen in a lot of other media, and it should be admired for that.

 Soul is a movie that will make the viewer think and will likely leave them with a sense of self-reflection afterwards.

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