Pixar achieves animation greatness once more with a beautifully uplifting and creative film. Soul will make your heart soar. The story of a jazz musician’s journey into the afterlife is sublimely inspirational. It touches so many aspects of the human experience without being melodramatic or depressing. Soul reminds us that the joy of life is inexorably intertwined with its failures. The ups and downs, the yin and yang of existence, is to be treasured. Soul delivers a truly fantastic, positive message in a year filled with darkness and tragedy.
Jamie Foxx stars as the voice of Joe Gardner, a jazz pianist in New York City who works part-time as a middle school music teacher. Joe has always loved music, but failed miserably to make his passion a paying career. His mother (Phylicia Rashad) is ecstatic when the school offers Joe a full-time position. He will finally have a job that has security and actual benefits.
Joe gets a call from a former student (Questlove) about an audition with Dorothea Williams (Angela Bassett), a famous jazz saxophonist. He’s over the moon after getting the gig. At last, after years of trying, he’ll finally be a real musician. Unfortunately for Joe, his exuberance doesn’t keep an eye on the road.
Joe wakes up as a wisp of light, on a space escalator, heading towards the dazzling Great Beyond. No, this cannot be. Joe simply refuses to die. He must get back to Earth and into his body. Along the way he encounters an unborn soul, the troublesome “22” (Tina Fey), who doesn’t think that life is worth living. They embark on a hilarious spiritual, and physical odyssey, through the different levels of existence. As 22 begins to recognize the value of life, Joe realizes how much he took his own for granted.
Soul handles the concept of death in an ingenious way. Director/co-writer Pete Docter (Up, Inside Out) removes fear from the equation. Death is inevitable and the natural end of life. The film focuses entirely on the pieces that add up to your personality. 22 is a soul that believes life’s overrated. Why be physically born into the misery of Earth? Joe is chasing a dream that dominated every aspect of his corporeal being. Both characters need each other to discover their true “spark.” Docter and the filmmakers at Pixar have crafted a complex, deeply philosophical story that even young children will understand.
Soul has an infectious jazz soundtrack that will inspire a new generation of fans. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, already Oscar and Grammy winners for musical score, need to clear more space on the shelf. Soul’s music is integral to the film’s success. From toe-tapping grooves to sweetly ethereal melodies, Soul’s score is both vibrant and poignant. It is the vehicle that takes the characters on their whirlwind adventure. One scene in particular, where Joe has an extraordinary moment of clarity, has perhaps the best accompaniment of the year. Reznor and Ross are known for their edgy, more industrial and experimental works. They become unexpected jazz masters here.
My last glowing accolade concerns Soul’s wonderful portrayal of New York City. The film is a testament to African-American cultural contributions. From bustling streets, to the hectic subway, to the hip jazz lounges of the West Village, Soul brings the city to life through amazing CGI animation. It is a heartfelt reminder of what has been missing during this awful pandemic. Soul is masterful in every regard. It is a lock to win the Oscar for Best Animated Film. Soul is a production of Pixar Animation Studios. It will be available to stream Christmas Day on Disney+.
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