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  • Victoria Gee, MHS

Pixar's Soul: A Review

This past Christmas, Pixar Studios released their new animated film, Soul, onto Disney+. The movie is a celebration of jazz music and the search for meaning in life. Starring big names like Jamie Foxx and Tina Fey, Soul garnered lots of praise from fans and critics alike. The movie was supposed to be released in theaters in June of 2020. Due to the pandemic, Disney decided to release it onto their streaming service at no cost to subscribers.

The movie follows Joe Gardner, a struggling middle school band teacher living in New York City who aspires to be a famous jazz musician. When Joe finally lands a gig that could turn him into a star, he falls down a sewer and almost dies, ending up on a path to the Great Beyond, a version of heaven or a final resting place. But, Joe wants to live, so he can have his big break. Throwing himself off the path, Joe ends up in the Great Before, where new souls get their personalities before going to Earth. There, he embarks on a quest to return to his body and reclaim his life. He gets paired with Soul 22, a soul that has been in the Great Before for thousands of years, because she could never find the purpose of living. Together, they help each other find the true meaning of life.

From the very beginning, the movie centers around music. We learn that Joe has been obsessed with jazz ever since he saw a performance as a boy, and we also hear him play. As viewers, we can tell that Joe has a lot of talent and that he deserves recognition. A famous jazz musician, Jon Batiste, wrote the performance pieces for Joe. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, Oscar-winning musicians and members of the rock band Nine Inch Nails, filled out the rest of the soundtrack to bring the city and the soul worlds to life. Jazz fills breaks between dialogue, and as it calms Joe, it calms the viewers, as if to assure everyone that Joe’s fate will work out fine. To an untrained ear or eye, the music is merely calming, perfect for the scenes it scores. However, musicians can pick up the small musical details that make the movie so unique. Every time a character is playing an instrument, the movements match the melodies perfectly and realistically. Songs reflect their specific scenes, with happier scenes boasting more energetic beats and sadder scenes drawing on melancholy chords and melodies.

Past the music, the movie brings many philosophical questions into consideration in a way that is reminiscent of the NBC sitcom The Good Place. While Joe focuses on getting back to his body, 22 focuses on how Earth is miserable and how she saw no reason to live. Together, the two help each other realize that both of their points of view on life are wrong. Joe thought that playing music was the only reason for his life, meaning that he needed to get back and play music to fulfill his purpose. 22 thought that she had no reason to live, so there was no point in getting to Earth. When 22 accidentally gets dropped to Earth, she gets to live a day in the reality of our planet. She realizes that all the little things in life, like the taste of pizza, make life worth living. When Joe sees this, he too realizes that instead of focusing on what he thought his purpose was, he could have been enjoying the gift of living.

Throughout the many Pixar animated films, there are many different styles of animation. Some, especially older ones like Toy Story, have a much simpler animation style. More recent ones like Inside Out look much more realistic. With Soul, Pixar builds on its realistic animation. In shots of the city, viewers can see the sun peeking between buildings and through windows in a way that is usually only recreated by cameras. Anyone familiar with the city will also recognize streets by little details: an accurate subway map, an animated overview of Central Park, and constantly busy sidewalks and roads. Within the Great Before, the animation helps illustrate the abstractness of the beginning of life. All these little details ensure that the viewers stay intrigued while watching the movie.

Overall, Soul deserves all the praise it’s received. The attention to detail fascinates viewers, and the well-written script engages the audience. Although this movie was the first Pixar film not to debut in theaters, the quality did not decline in any way. The film is family-friendly and is an easy watch for all ages. Pixar hit the target yet again, making Soul a powerful film while highlighting the joys of living.

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