If there’s one thing that 2020 taught us it’s that life is precious and so watching Disney Pixar’s Soul with its existential, big meaning of life questions makes excellent viewing.
The question: “what is it that makes you…YOU?” is at the heart of Soul, Pixar Animation Studios’ new feature film. Getting viewers to ponder deep, philosophical questions is something Pixar does well. They’re the guys that brought us Inside Out and Toy Story to name a few box office hits.
Soul follows in a similar vein, telling the story of a middle-school band teacher, Joe Gardner, voiced by multi-hyphenate Jamie Foxx.
Despite the fact that his paunch and greying hair tells us that he is clearly middle aged, Joe Gardner still holds on to his long-held dream of playing at the best jazz club in town, an act that he’s convinced will change his life for the better. Seemingly stifled in his job as a middle-school band teacher, he reluctantly considers accepting a stable job at his school when he gets a chance of a lifetime to play at the best jazz club in town, as part of a jazz quartet led by the enigmatic Dorothea Williams, voiced by Angela Bassett.
“It was pleasing to see the attention to detail in the characters’ skin tone and detail in the Afro hair of all the African American characters.”
As he celebrates his stroke of luck, in a scene reminiscent of a Looney Tunes cartoon, one small misstep transports him from the streets of New York City to a fantastical place called ‘The Great Before’ where new souls get their personalities, quirks and interests before they go to Earth. Determined to return to his life, Joe teams up with a precocious soul, 22 (voice of Tina Fey), who has never understood the appeal of the human experience. As Joe desperately tries to show 22 what’s great about living, he begins to finally learn the answers to some of life’s most important questions. But it may be too late.
Soul marked the first film at Pixar to feature a host of characters with Black and brown skin. This responsibility saw the filmmakers take extra special care to ensure all skin types were richly and authentically depicted. It was pleasing to see the attention to detail in the characters’ skin tone and detail in the Afro hair of all the African American characters.
The all-star cast also surprisingly includes British personalities Graham Norton as ‘Moonwind’ and Richard Ayoade as ‘Jerry’ as well as the legendary Phylicia Rashad as Libba Gardner, (Joe’s mum).
Finding one’s purpose has become a bit of a buzz phrase in recent years, but this film asks viewers to check that the pursuit of identifying and chasing your purpose doesn’t blind you to the journey of life and happiness that can be found by just being you.
At the heart of the film is the message to live every day like it’s your last and to be ‘present’ in every situation. The following anecdote from the film captures this sentiment: “I heard this story about a fish, he swims up to an older fish and says: ‘I’m trying to find this thing they call the ocean.’ ‘The ocean?’ the older fish says, ‘that’s what you’re in right now.’ ‘This’, says the young fish, ‘this is water. What I want is the ocean!’”
Moral of the story? Don’t be the young fish!
Disney and Pixar’s Soul will be available exclusively on Disney+ beginning 25 December.