Photo ©Pixar Studios
When I sat down to watch Pixar’s most recent film, “Soul”, I was expecting to cry and feel the feels. I wasn’t expecting to question how we define our purpose in life and what it means to even have a purpose.
This stunning film starts off with Joe (voiced by Jamie Foxx), a middle school music teacher who longs for more in life, mainly performing music. When he gets word of an opportunity to perform with a popular music trio lead by saxophonist Dorothea (Angela Bassett), he gets so excited that he dies. Not literally, but in his distraction, he falls down a manhole, and the next thing he knows, his soul is being transported to the Great Beyond.
Joe quickly escapes and finds himself in an equally confusing place: the Great Before, where new souls get their personalities and then go to Earth. There, Joe is paired up with 22 (voiced by Tina Fey), a soul who doesn’t want to go to Earth and live and would rather fool around in the Great Before. Desperate to get back to Earth and make it to his gig, Joe and 22 try to find 22’s purpose but to no avail.
At around the midway mark, Joe and 22 are able to escape the Great Before and go back to Earth. However, they wake up to find themselves in different bodies; 22 in Joe’s body, and Joe in the body of a cat, who was assigned to Joe at the hospital. While Joe was able to switch back to his body by the time of his performance, it was very hard not to ignore the fact that Joe (or rather, his body) was being voiced by a white person. It seems like an odd choice given the recent movements to have black characters be voiced by black actors, even though “Soul’s” story was probably written before things like that were considered. While I believe it’s important that something like this should not go unchecked, I think it’s also possible to enjoy media while also thinking critically about how things could have been done.
One of the things I loved about this film was the animation itself. Pixar has come a long way since movies like “Toy Story” in terms of animation and design, and “Soul” has clear evidence of such. Every character clearly shows that a considerable amount of thought was put into their design. Even the different souls have characteristics that differentiate from one another, and the background characters each look like they have their own personality.
Another thing that blew me away was the lighting. I usually don’t pay attention to set design and lighting in animation (mostly because it’s not on my mind), but it was hard to overlook in this case. The ways the characters are illuminated in the bright sunlight, to the moody lighting of the nightclub where Joe performs are all beautiful examples of how far Pixar’s animation team has come.
Animated movies have frequently been made for all ages to enjoy. In the past however, animated movies have become synonymous with children’s films. I feel like “Soul” challenges that by being a film that can be enjoyed by both children and adults. It raises incredibly thought-provoking questions that adults have about life and starts the inevitable conversation about death and what happens after we die for young children. It reminds me of when Sesame Street addressed Mr. Hooper’s death in the TV series instead of recasting the actor when he passed away. They handled it in a way for kids to understand, just like “Soul”.
Overall, I give this film an 8/10. It was a very soulful film (I’m sorry, I had to).