Pixar’s “Soul” is about a jazz pianist who has a near-death experience and is trapped in the afterlife, reflecting on his choices and regretting an existence he mostly takes for granted. Pixar veteran Pete Docter is credited co-director, alongside scriptwriter and screenwriter Kemp Powers, who wrote Regina King’s incredible “One Night in Miami.” Despite the heavy theme, this project has a light touch. A musician might equate “Soul” with an extended riff, or five-finger rehearsal, which is very much in the spirit of jazz, the improv-centered art that is honorably and accurately depicted on screen whenever Joe or another musician character begins performing.
The prologue culminates with Joe (voiced by Jamie Foxx) falling into an open pit and ending up in a coma in the hospital. It’s a sad ending to an exciting day where Joe is finally offered a staff job at his school, then auditioned by visiting jazz legend Dorothea Williams (Angela Bassett) who had invited him to play with him that night. After his near-death fall, Joe’s soul is sent to the Great Beyond—essentially a cosmic portico with a long path, where souls line up before heading for the white light. Joe isn’t ready for The End yet, so he flees the other way, falls off the trail, and ends up in the brightly colored purgatory zone known as The Great Before.
spiritual ecosystem where certain things must happen for other things to happen. There’s a touch of video game structure/plot to the entire premise, and that’s reinforced by stylized images of the Great Before characters in supervisory positions over mentors and proto-souls:
The goal of Great Before is to guide fresh souls so that they can find the “spark” that will propel them towards a happy and productive life on earth. Joe is motivated primarily by the desire to escape the white light and return to earth somehow (and play the incredible show he has been waiting for his whole life), so he considers the identity of a famous Swedish psychologist and mentor to be a blip problem known only by his number, 22 (Tina Fey). Twenty-two is a cynic who has resisted the guidance of some of the greatest figures in mortal history, including Carl Jung and Abraham Lincoln. Can Joe break that line and help him find his destination? Have you seen a Pixar movie before? Of course.
That said, there’s a nice comic twist midway through the film that brings “Soul” to life just as it begins to drag, and it’s best not to spoil it here (even though the trailer and commercials are there). Suffice it to say that 22 has finally found its spark, although it takes a lot of effort and more than some wild misfortune to get there; and that Joe checked his earthly birthdays as a friendly but gentle teacher and found that they were lacking. He doesn’t make as many friends as he should and is overcome by the fear that he traded his childhood dream of being a working jazz artist for a more ordinary life. (Joe’s mother, played by Phylicia Rashad, doesn’t endorse the music.) The downside is that it transforms “The Soul of “The Princess and the Frog” and “Spices in Disguise”) where the rare black main character is turned into something else for the most part. movie playing time.
Is this the first midlife crisis film released by Pixar? Maybe, although Woody in the movie “Toy Story” seems to have a touch of suffering. The film is a bit shaggy and disorganized with its mythology/rules—something Pixar usually scrutinizes, to the point of becoming obsessive. I’m not sure it multiplied in the grand scheme of things by the time the final sequence arrived. The film’s message can be summed up as, “Don’t get so caught up in ambition that you forget to stop and smell the flowers.” A birthday card could just tell you that. And some of his jokes are a little bit DreamWorksy, like the part where a lost soul returns to earth and realizes he really wasted his life working at daycare centers for placing their characters on murals without permission—have no business lecturing others on the moral void of materialism.
However, apart from “Cars” and its various derivatives, Pixar has never released a bad film. And it’s good: fun and clever, with a generous heart, committed voice acting, and some of the weirdest images in Pixar history (including the ghostly pink pirate ship belonging to “mystical without limits,” with tie-died sails, anchor peace symbol, and Bob Dylan’s continuous explosion of “Subterranean Homesick Blues”. The company has been entrenched at the center of popular culture for decades, a reputation reinforced by animated features that blend innovative design and graphics, lively physical and verbal comedy, impeccably staged action, and the sensibilities that one of my old college film textbooks call for ” sprezzatura“The Book of the Courtier as “…a certain indifference, to conceal all art, and to make whatever one does or says seem effortless, and almost without thinking about it.” In other words, Pixar makes things look easy, even when hundreds of people work on projects long enough to justify the “production baby” part of the end credits.