- The Magazine
Daring, masterful, and attuned to the many possibilities the form allows, Pixar’s Soul (★★★★☆) swoops and swerves like a bebop solo, interpreting great mysteries of life and death with style and effortless grace.
For the movie’s hero, pianist Joe Gardner (Jamie Foxx), jazz encompasses all. It’s music, it’s a profession, a touchstone of Black and American culture, and the vehicle he uses to transmit to his middle school band students what it means to be passionate about something. Joe’s love for jazz dances across the screen in reveries of color and sound. Matching inventive visuals to snappy compositions and piano solos by Late Show bandleader Jon Batiste, co-directors Pete Docter and Kemp Powers convey the meaning behind Joe’s assertion that he was born to play.
The film also adeptly conveys Joe’s gut-wrenching disappointment when, just as he’s on the cusp of his big break as a musician, he suffers a freak accident that sends his soul into limbo. Flying off-track between life and the “great beyond,” Joe’s spiritual self lands inside the “great before,” a launching pad for unborn souls. He’s paired as a mentor to unborn soul 22 (Tina Fey), whose failure to launch after thousands of years of mentoring, suggests a soul who might never find the spark that animates their life.
The script gamely animates such abstract concepts with humor and insight, while Foxx and Fey’s performances provide emotional ballast for Joe and 22’s adventures between the real and spiritual worlds. Reflecting the interplay between the two dimensions, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ cool techno score contrasts beautifully with the warmth of live instruments playing Batiste’s jazz riffs. Along the way, Soul conjures apt visual representations of profound unknowns, from the great beyond to the so-called “coming together of all quantized fields of the universe,” the energy that stewards souls through the spiritual realm.
Those merry stewards — depicted as squiggly-line figures all named Jerry — help Joe navigate his spiritual path. But it’s up to Joe to guide 22 to whatever it is that sparks their soul. The movie’s mix of fairy tale and philosophy is mostly inspired, save for a bum note at the climax that undercuts the message of living your life to the fullest while you can. Having worked its way up to taking a courageous leap, the movie ultimately demurs. Still, it poses intriguing questions about life and mortality that most films don’t dare ponder, while telling a brilliantly simple story of finding one’s purpose and passion for living.
Soul begins streaming on Friday, Dec. 25, exclusively on Disney+. Visit www.disneyplus.com.
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