"Soul" Film Review
By: Nathaniel Simpson
Pixar, which is known for being a secondary studio to Disney, started out crafting excellent family films that focused on more mature themes. Throughout its history, their films started to branch out more and more, garnering attention and praise from those who consider Disney as a studio meant for children and families. With their films like "Inside Out" and "Coco" gaining instant success all over the world in every age bracket, it allowed the studio to expand to more serious topics, such as death and the realization that life is way too short. Those topics are heavily featured in their 2020 outing, titled "Soul". Not only does the film does a fantastic job of addressing these topics in such a beautiful way, but it is able to still entertain both children and adults, presenting a viewing experience that audiences will remember for a long time.
The animated feature focuses on an African American man named Joe Gardner (Jamie Foxx), who is an aspiring jazz musician. However, now that he's middle-age and is stuck teaching a school band full of students who don't really care about being there, he starts to realize that maybe his opportunity to be a successful musician is too far gone. However, by a freak chance, he gets a call from a former student, informing him that the singer he plays for, Dorothea Williams (Angela Bassett), is in need for a new pianist. When he goes to the audition and is able to land the gig, Joe thinks his luck is finally about to turn around.
What he doesn't expect is to die on the walk home from the audition. Falling into a sinkhole, he is then transported to the Great Before, which is the middle ground between being alive and spending eternity into the Great Beyond. He is now tasked with helping a soul find their purpose, earning their Earth pass and being able to live a full life on Earth. When he gets assigned to a soul named 22 (Tina Fey), he thinks it will be a piece of cake and will allow him to steal the young soul's Earth Pass when they finally earn it. What he doesn't know however is that he has been assigned to the most stubborn soul who is adamant that she does not want to go to Earth, making things much more difficult for him. When they land on an adventure of a lifetime (literally), they must work together to get what they both want, while also learning a lot about themselves and the world they inhabit at the same time.
The filmmakers could have easily crafted a film that was very pretentious and talking down to the viewer about the importance of living and how everyone has a purpose. Thankfully, they take the route of putting the viewer on the rollercoaster of life with the characters, having them look at themselves and their lives while the characters do as well. In terms of the story and the plot, I think the story and screenplay is beautifully crafted, allowing the characters to fully experience everything that life has to offer.
Consider the character of 22. They (even though Fey gives this character life, her character is never defined by a gender), are adamant they want nothing to do with Earth and thinks it's just this big stupid rock floating in space. However, when they go down to Earth with Joe and inhabit his body while he is in the body of a cat, they start to learn that Earth has more to offer than what they expected. There are two major moments that stand out to me the most - 22 trying pizza for the first time and interacting with Joe's student, who thinks she wants to give up music due to her peers bullying her about enjoying jazz. From both of these interactions, it shows 22 how life is worth living and to always go after what you love, no matter what.
I think these parts of the film are great and provide social commentary on those who feel like they have nothing to live for. While it may go over the heads of young children watching it, it will leave a lasting impact on the adults who view this film. I'm sure everyone has felt like they are not enough or they won't reach their dreams before they die, and this movie is able to commentate on those fears in a way to make the viewer feel like they are not alone and have them fully look back on their own lives and goals.
In terms of the acting performances, I think everyone here does a fantastic job. Foxx and Fey have great chemistry together and are hilarious together. Then, in terms of everyone they interact with and come across, they are able to make the characters their own, each of them leaving a lasting impact on the film as a whole.
One thing I do want to mention is how absolutely beautiful the animation is here. Pixar has come along way from its creation, and in my opinion, makes the most beautiful and stellar animated films to date. Even dismal movies like "Lightyear" have fantastic animation and effects. What I also appreciate is how they included characters from different cultures and livelihoods throughout the movie. Consider the barber Dez (Donnell Rawlings), who cuts Joe's hair before his big performance. They give him tattoos and make him look like an actual barber you would find in the real world, showing how all people from all places of the world are represented in a film like this.
Pixar really knows how to make heartfelt, meaningful movies that are also able to entertain families as a whole. Like most every other Pixar film, "Soul" really has something for everybody, and I think they do a great job of telling this beautiful story that everyone can relate to. I applaud Pixar and Disney for taking this chance, and I can't wait to see what stellar, unique story they can come up with next.