‘Soul’ Takes Original Journey To The Afterlife, Jazz Music And The Meaning Of Spark

Pixar films have a way of appealing to an array of emotions. Who can ever forget the memorable opening sequence from 2009’s Up showing the rise and fall of a romantic relationship? Or 2015 Upside down, where a young teenager must deal with her basic emotions during a difficult move. The beauty of Pixar films is that they show these universal questions that humans have, but in a way where adults and children can meet in the middle. Whether it’s a loss, a sense of companionship and change. Soul brings two patterns that we all face down; legacy and purpose. We all have something that motivates us and gives us a reason to look forward to the day. We can feel so lost without it. The tool of purpose is fantastic to have, and it can be something that shapes your legacy. Is there a time when life gets too bogged down in purpose where you can’t stop and smell the roses?

Joe Gardner (Jamie Foxx) is a middle school music teacher and pianist with an undying love for jazz music. It is certain that his goal in life is to play in a jazz band. This is what enlightens it and gives it purpose. One day, through his former student, Curley (quest love), Joe has the chance to play in the famous group of Dorothea Williams (Angela Bassett). However, there is a problem – he has an accident and his soul separates from his body. From there he travels to The Great Beyond and The Great Before – a place where the soul counselors are all called Jerry (Alice Braga, Richard Ayoade) help new souls assign their personality. He meets a soul named 22 (Tina Fey) who wants absolutely nothing to do with life experience. With an odd couple setup, they both need to discover the meaning of life in a way that will cause laughter and emotional epiphanies.

Co-directors Kemp powers and Pete Docter doing an exemplary job of not only delving into the fantastical aspect of the afterlife, but also the vibrant neighborhoods of New York City. You venture everywhere, from the subway to the barbershop to a dimly lit jazz club. For this to be Pixar’s (long-awaited) first African-American-led film, culture, jazz music heritage, and the generational love of black families are well represented. The animation depicts the otherworldly aspects of Soul in an abstract, dreamlike but also level with the awesome realistic aspects of the real world. The soundtrack tasks are shared by the team of Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross with styles of Jon Batiste. All parts work together to blend the electronic and sometimes beautifully tranquil piano with the mesmerizing and intricate scales of jazz music.

The best thing about Soul is its story, where it is much more layered than at first glance. Joe’s musical dream comes up against real societal pressures. Mainly, his mother Libba (Phylicia Rashad) wants the best for him, but wants Joe to settle into the stability of his dreams. This film speaks to the dreamer in all of us. Sometimes the vision can be so real to you that it seems far-fetched to others. You become hyper-focused to get there. Once Joe and 22 reunite, they help each other discover that the minutiae of life – the little moments are just as important. There are lovely flashbacks that occur throughout the film where you see the origin of Joe’s love of jazz music – introduced by his father, in particular. While you might want more time to investigate Joe’s background further, the film provides just enough conversation and visuals to get the gist of it.

A deeper message lives within Soul that lend themselves to the whirlwind of a year we’ve had. Many of us have seen our lives turned upside down, turned upside down and shaken. The conventional model of 9 to 5, meet at the office and come home has changed. SoulThe inclusion of Disney+ works to its advantage, as the whole family can have the time they need to get something out of this movie. Children will have questions about the afterlife and talk about the things they love the most. Parents can take an inner journey to find out what their spark is and pay it forward. Together, we can all remember that all that adds up makes for a full and fulfilling life.

Photo credit: Disney/Pixar

Ada J. Kenney