Pixar returns to form with ‘Soul’

What a year 2020 was. As it finally ends, its defining moments and the impact they have had continue into these first days of the new year.

With that in mind, people continue to flock to entertainment and insight in the form of stories. Books, shows, and films have offered glimmers of hope in a time it’s needed for so many. Pixar’s Soul is maybe the best example as any to have come from this year. A deeply emotional, psychologically challenging homage to life itself, the film stands out this year for its reorientation to what’s most important in life.

The film redefines everyday life, offering alternate perspectives on positivity, meaning, and spirituality. As if that wasn’t enough of glimmer to end 2020, the film finally displays a cast of color and shines a light on a culture previously unseen in the Pixar universe.

The film opens to introduce Joe Gardner (Jamie Foxx), a middle aged middle school music teacher living alone in New York City. Joe is an incredibly skilled pianist, but as so many do in the world of music, he has struggled and still not found his break. Committing his entire life to the craft, Joe has sacrificed much of his own happiness in his blind pursuit for success.

His lack of luck, though, appears to finally evaporate when an old student of Joe’s offers him a spot to audition to be a member of renowned Jazz musician Dorothea Williams’s band. Jumping at the chance to be in the group, Joe nails his audition. After earning the spot, he excitedly runs home to get ready to return to the stage as a band member that evening.

His excitement is abruptly interrupted by a manhole, sending Joe’s soul to the Great Beyond. In an effort to avoid a permanent stay in the afterlife, Joe curates a scheme to teach a pessimistic new soul, 22 (Tina Fey), of its purpose in the world in order to earn an Earth badge to return to his body. As he and 22 plot together to get to his body, Joe offers insights into life on Earth and, in turn, discovers the aspects of life he may have taken for granted.

As far as stories in the Pixar pantheon are concerned, Soul is pretty middle of the road. What makes the film resonant isn’t an entirely original or challenging narrative, but instead a well-timed tale that reminds viewers of what life has to offer. The emotion the cast offers and the delicacy with which the animators illustrate Soul make the film a deeply effecting watch.

So beautiful, in fact, it will likely offer a shift in mentality to those who watch as they welcome the new year. Further, Soul plays as Pixar’s most overtly adult focused film in years. It’s difficult to watch the film and find what children may glean from it, other than the incredible visuals and newfound appreciation of Jazz music (which, in itself, is a win).

That said, Pixar has a longstanding reputation for its deeply layered filmmaking. Soul takes this into account as it plays in the homes of individuals looking for hope. Will Soul provide viewers with the purpose in their lives? No, but isn’t that the point?

Soul is streaming on Disney+ now.


Author: Kieran Sweeney

Writing about entertainment for the better part of a decade and consuming it twice as much, Kieran Sweeney is "the" pop culture aficionado. A connoisseur of the intersection of art and commercialism, the USC Annenberg graduate has earned his reputation as an empathetic and thoughtful writer. His resume includes USC's The Daily Trojan, USC Viterbi News, and personal assistance for publicity and marketing companies from Drill Down Media to This Fiction. His intersectional experience in the industry points to his wit and unfiltered thoughts on the latest project in entertainment

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