‘Soul’ is just what we needed at the end of 2020
Soul features an all-star cast, including Jamie Foxx, Tina Fey, Phylicia Rashad, and Angela Bassett.
Disclaimer: There are spoilers in this review
Pixar’s newest film, Soul, has left viewers questioning their entire existence and contemplating the meaning of life (as if we haven’t done enough of that throughout 2020). On that same token, the movie conveys a powerful message and is truly cathartic. Following its timely Christmas debut on Disney+, Soul has received overwhelmingly positive reviews, taking you on a spiritual journey of exploring life’s purpose.
Soul features an all-star cast, including Jamie Foxx, Tina Fey, Phylicia Rashad, and Angela Bassett. Co-directed by HBCU graduate Kemp Powers, the film focuses on Joe Gardner (Foxx), Pixar’s first Black lead. Gardner is a middle school band teacher and talented jazz musician who is seemingly unfulfilled with the circumstances of his life.
Joe longs to catch his big break and often auditions to guide him towards his goal. Ironically, the day that his dreams come true by landing a major gig at a local jazz club, he falls through a manhole and finds himself, or his soul, rather, ascending to The Great Beyond.
Overcome with fear, he tries not to “go towards the light,” and instead enters a different realm on the astral plane. This in-between place is where unborn souls are trained and assigned personalities prior to incarnating on Earth, an illusory dimension known as The Great Before.
The Great Before is portrayed as a peaceful and playful place where souls are genuinely in their purest form. While in The Great Before, Joe meets and becomes a mentor to a soul named 22 (Fey), who is entirely unfazed by life on Earth.
22 has been dwelling in the Great Beyond for thousands of years, unable to obtain her “Earth pass.” This is when Joe mischievously offers to help 22 find her “spark” in exchange for the ticket that would send him back home, just in time for his gig at the jazz club.
The two then travel through a portal back to Earth, but their souls don’t end up where you would think. (Is it just me, or is it a coincidence that the soul-swap is giving Freaky Friday vibes, and this film just happened to be released on a Friday? Probably, but I digress). From there, Soul takes viewers on an adventure that is full of life, humor, and mesmerizing visuals, all while distorting space and time.
One conceptual motif that the movie continues to revisit is when 22 shows Joe another dimension called “the zone,” a space where passion transcends people into euphoria, i.e., where the physical meets the spiritual.
This notion, in particular, was meaningful to me, someone who grew up as a performer and who would often come off stage feeling as if I had little to no recollection of what just transpired. That’s when you know you had lost yourself in your craft; when you’re out there and nothing else matters.
Not only is the content vastly existential, but the animation is aesthetically pleasing.
The details in the film are incredibly nuanced, even down to the other Black characters’ features. A minor yet significant element I happened to notice is the cultural staple that almost every Black person is privy to: the infamous Royal Dansk cookie jar that never actually contains cookies, but instead houses sewing kit materials.
We must also acknowledge the elegant yet stern demeanor of Joe’s mother, voiced by Phylicia Rashad – who has been and continues to be an iconic maternal figure in the Black community. And, of course, let’s give an honorable mention to the barbershop aesthetic that doubled as a kickback spot.
All of these illustrations embody real-life experiences of Black culture. More often than not, the Black community is typically under or misrepresented, so it was refreshing to see a more accurate depiction of Black identity.
Ultimately, Soul, perfectly aligned with one of the overarching themes that 2020 has reinforced – that life shouldn’t be defined by your career or your busy schedules. Life is about living, and the film courageously dares to challenge the social conditioning that most of us are accustomed to. After experiencing a year that has been tumultuous on so many fronts, Soul provides comfort and a newfound inspiration to live life to the fullest.
Soul reminded me of when actor/rapper Common spoke at my university when I was a freshman. He mentioned that there are three things that you need to do in life; 1. Find your purpose, 2. Believe in your purpose and 3. Live your purpose.
The last point really resonated with me and eventually inspired my first tattoo. But the way that I saw Common’s message was you might never find your purpose but each day that you’re here on this Earth, you are living – so let your “spark” light up the world every chance that you get.
In short, do what makes you feel the most alive and embrace the small moments that life has to offer. Surrender to the infinite now. Stop to smell the roses and realize that joy lingers in all things: the breeze of fresh air on a beautiful spring day, the rays of the sun beaming through the clouds, the mouth-watering aromas, and the taste of a warm slice of pizza.
Gratitude is the bridge between living and existing, and the theme of being grateful for life pulsates throughout the entire film. In the words of Joe Gardner, “life is full of possibilities, you just need to know where to look.”
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