I really wanted to love soul… but I didn’t. As a jazz fan, I had reason to expect something great from what I knew about this project. As it turns out, jazz is just one component of Soul, The other is a metaphysical exploration of life itself, both before and after we are born.
Are we imbued with certain characteristics or tendencies before we assume human form? How do we measure success in life? These are some of the big questions that Joe Morgan (voiced by Jamie Foxx) faces, a high school band teacher who is given the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to sit down with a well-known jazz star. Instead, he is suddenly kidnapped into an otherworldly realm, where he is paired with a soul named 22 (Tina Fey) who has not yet found its purpose or reason to accept life.
Along the way we learn more about Joe, who has never been really successful as a musician and is content with a career in which he teaches talentless (and unmotivated) children. Through a series of vignettes in his mother’s seamstress store, a local barber shop, and other well-known places, we understand what kept him going … just as 22 begins to appreciate the little things that make life on earth so precious from a ride on the New York subway to a leaf falling from a tree.
Writer and director Pete Docter has never played it safe. He opened it Above with an unforgettable, poignant portrait of a love affair that lasted a lifetime. He created from the inside to the outside trying to understand the conflicting feelings that govern a teenage girl’s decisions. These are mature and provocative films that aren’t aimed at children, but ingeniously disguise themselves under the guise of family entertainment – a key element that I missed.
soul examines the frustrations of a middle-aged black man who has failed to achieve his goal in life; Now he’s pending and not ready to move on. That’s pretty heady (not to mention heavy) stuff. I found the characters in the other area repulsive and never cared about 22 or their dilemma – not the way I chose Joe. The film uses bold, abstract figures and other components of modern art for the “other” world and contrasts them with realistic images that encompass the vivid and closely observed scenes in Manhattan. As always, the Pixar team gave the film an incomparable look.
Docter worked with Kemp Powers (who wrote) on this script One night in Miami) and Mike Jones and consulted with individuals and institutions rooted in African American culture. To make it work soul had to feel authentic, and it does. It also benefits from a score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, punctuated by lively jazz interludes from the talented Jon Batiste, who appears on television with Stephen Colbert every night.
I feel like a native complaining about a mainstream Disney release that doesn’t speak to the audience, a Trojan horse of philosophy packaged as shiny entertainment. But so fascinated me Soul, I didn’t really enjoy the experience. I saw it with my family and we all had different reactions.
I would be stupid and narrow-minded if I didn’t appreciate the effort and artistry that went into this film. How lucky we are that there is a studio like Pixar that is not afraid to tackle complex and challenging ideas in the mainstream film industry. I just wish I liked her new movie better.