As a jazz pianist trapped in a world that human souls travel through on their way into and out of existence, this imaginative tale stars Jamie Foxx.
Ever wonder where you come from with your ambition, your dreams and your interests? What’s the thing that makes you… well you? In 2020, to find the answers to the most important questions of life, Pixar Animation Studios takes you on a trip from the streets of New York City to the celestial realms.
Pixar’s “Soul” is about a jazz pianist after encountering a near-death experience, Joe Gardner- the story’s main character gets lost in the afterlife, this causes him to look at his life from a different perspective, making him realize he may have taken life for granted. The co-director, along with playwright and screenwriter Kemp Powers, is Pixar veteran Pete Docter, who penned Regina King’s excellent “One Night in Miami.”
With Joe (voiced by Jamie Foxx) slipping down an open manhole and ending up comatose in a bed, the prologue peaks. It’s a bummer twist that ends on a wonderful day when Joe was actually given a position at his school with his employees, then nailed an interview with a touring jazz legend called Dorothea Williams (Angela Bassett) who asked him that night to perform with her. Joe’s soul is returned to the Great Beyond, literally a celestial foyer with a long walkway, following his near-lethal pratfall, where souls queue up before going into a bright light. Joe isn’t prepared for The End, so he flees in the other direction, slips off the walkway, and winds up in the Great Before, a brightly lit yet still-purgatory zone.
The Great Before’s aim is to tutor young souls so that they can find a “spark” that will drive them back to earth to a peaceful and fruitful existence. Joe is guided mostly by an urge to escape the white light and somehow get back to Earth (and perform the awesome gig he’d been waiting for his whole life), he then assumes the persona of a respected Swedish psychologist and mentors a dilemma blip identified only by her number, 22. (Tina Fey). Twenty-two is a blasé cynic who refused the mentorship of some of the finest figures, including Carl Jung and Abraham Lincoln, in mortal history. Is Joe willing to break the streak and help her find her purpose? Have you ever seen a movie featuring Pixar before? Yeah. Of course. In these movies, it’s primarily about how things happen, occasionally about what happens.
“Soul” is a visually breathtaking film that is lovingly made and brilliantly performed. It captured me with its complex philosophical themes and one’s meaning in life. Hats off to Pixar’s imaginative people to create an unconventional animated film that, for the most part, does not go a traditional narrative path, rather finds a variety of creative ways to tell the story. There are a variety of funny and witty scenes combined with moments that highlight life’s deep beauty. In the film, I really liked the comedy and funny jokes, including one that shows why the New York Knicks are so appalling. Although the parts of Joe in the body of the cat and 22 in his body are humorous, I have had a few quibbles with “Soul.”
Nevertheless, it is open to other openings, which could be all that any piece of art should be. Soul tries to carve out an identity for itself as something other than a blockbuster or a technologically revolutionary masterpiece within the imperatives of branded commercial entertainment. It is a short, fragile movie that doesn’t perfectly reach every note, but the title sums up its mixture of talent, feeling and inspiration.