Pixar puts heart and ‘Soul’ into their newest film

Pixar released the animated film

Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures [Fair Use]

Pixar released the animated film “Soul”in December, and it is one of their very first to feature an African-American lead protagonist.

By Caleb Jenkins, The Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science

Pixar has become synonymous with movies marketed toward children that can be appreciated by viewers of any age. Their newest film “Soul” delivers on these expectations while simultaneously creating an experience unlike anything Pixar has made before.

“Soul” is a remarkably original film, both by Pixar’s standards as well as those of most mainstream cinema. It tells the story of Joe (Jamie Foxx), a man who has dedicated his life to pursuing a career in jazz, his one true passion. He is struggling to make a living as a junior high band teacher when he is given the opportunity of a lifetime to play piano for one of the biggest jazz musicians in town. However, after a freak accident, Joe must journey to reconnect his soul to his body in a race against the clock to get to the gig on time.

Along the way, Joe is accompanied by “22” (Tina Fey), a soul who has yet to find her ‘spark’  which will allow her to be born as a human being. 22 seems unable and unwilling to search for a spark, which is loosely defined by the film as a sort of life purpose. Joe spends much of the film attempting to help 22 find her spark in order to use it to return to his body, and this is how the movie explores one of its major themes:  the love of life itself. 

This theme is expounded upon by the beautiful, lifelike animation and expressive dialogue while still remaining accessible to its primary intended audience. The film says so much about all the wondrous little details of everyday life by showing the audience how the characters change the way they think about the world. Something as simple as a falling leaf is turned into a symbol of the beauty to be found all around us.

The film also manages to tackle the tougher aspects of discovering one’s purpose of life. Feelings of existentialism and aimlessness are on full display as characters question what their lives mean and whether they are truly happy with where they are in life. These are heavy topics for a children’s movie, yet Pixar manages to throw in enough fun animation and slapstick comedy to keep the film accessible. 

In terms of technical aspects, Pixar continues to push the boundaries of what can be accomplished with computer animation. From the stunning environments to the beautiful character design, the animation team nails the visual style of “Soul.” Realism and surrealism collide as the characters move back and forth between the human world and the soul world.

For a film about a jazz musician, one would expect extra attention to detail when it comes to the music used throughout the movie. This is just the case, as the film features the beautiful original jazz compositions of Jon Batiste as well as the riveting score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. Music serves both to heighten emotions and to put the viewer in the mind of the character. We feel as if we share Joe’s passion for jazz, even if we aren’t necessarily fans of the genre ourselves.

All of the wondrous tricks Pixar keeps up their sleeve come into play in this beautiful and surprisingly profound experience. Fundamental questions about life itself are pondered through the lens of a fantastical fiction, one engaging enough for a young audience and introspective enough for an older one. “Soul” is alive with energy and passion, a perfect watch for anyone who appreciates a good story with a message worth pondering for a long time after watching. 

This story was originally published on The Vision MSMS on January 12, 2021.