‘Soul’ movie review

Olivia Borgula, News Editors

Disney Pixar’s newest film, “Soul”, joins “Coco” and “Inside Out” in tackling some of the hardest concepts to understand: life, death, and our purpose as human beings. The story follows Joe Gardner (Jamie Foxx), a middle school band teacher who dreams of performing as a jazz pianist. After finally booking a gig with the legendary Dorothea Williams he takes a fatal misstep and falls into a mystical afterlife where he is transformed into a pastel blue-green soul. 

Studio stalwart Pete Docter’s depiction of the afterlife features a video game-inspired dreamland composed of soft pastel landscapes and characters drawn with elegant neon lines. When Joe arrives in this metaphysical spirit life, he has paired up to mentor an unborn soul, “Number 22” (Tina Fey.) While Joe desperately wants to return to his body, 22 doesn’t understand the appeal of Earth. Their conflicting, complementary desires send them on adventures between life and the afterlife, and along the way they discover what it means to be human. 

One of the best parts about this film is its depiction of New York. It’s Pixar’s most ambitious dive into the complexities and intricacies of a living city. Car horns, dusty subway platforms, and the whirlwind of pedestrians all ooze urban sentimentality. A particular scene that is beautifully animated is about an hour into the movie, when helicopter seeds fly down from a maple tree. The animators capture the light in such a way that an exquisite, serene, moment is created. Its beautiful simplicity reminds the audience why life is worth living. 

Another highlight of the film is the musical score. An integral part of the plot is Joe’s ability to get lost in the music while performing. During his audition to play with Dorothea Williams, the world around him fades away and the notes of Trent Raznor, Atticus Ross, and Jon Basite take control of his movements. If it had only featured Basite’s jazz, it would have been enough, but the Oscar-award winners Raznor and Ross contribute to a beautiful soundtrack that combines upbeat jazz with ethereal melodies. 

One flaw of the film is that it perpetuates the trope of a rare Black lead transforming into an entirely different being for the majority of the film. Disney has a pattern of dehumanizing their non-white characters by transforming them into animals; “The Princess and the Frog”, “Spies in Disguise”, “Emporor’s New Grove”, and “Brother Bear” all reinforce this pattern. According to Insider, Docter told journalists during a virtual press conference that he was not even aware of the trope until after he started working on the film.

Despite the racial undertones, the film still tries to anchor the story in an experience beyond white middle-class suburbia. Joe is first introduced to jazz from his father, who tells him, “Black improvisational music. It’s one of our great contributions to American culture.” The scene pans to a jazz club made up of lively musicians and audience members; Joe quickly falls in love with the style of music and atmosphere. There is also a visit to a Black barbershop and Joe makes a comment while trying to hail a cab, “Man, this would be hard even if I wasn’t wearing a hospital gown.” 

As the film wraps up it leaves the audience with a satisfied feeling and manages to incorporate an important lesson that even children can understand: appreciate life’s simplicity, because one day our time on Earth will end.