Logo for Byte Magazine at Ball State University

‘Soul’ is another finely tuned masterpiece from Pixar

WARNING: CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR DISNEY PIXAR'S 'SOUL' When it comes to creating animated films of the highest quality, look no further than Pixar. Ever since the release of Toy Story back in 1995, the Disney-owned studio has consistently produced critically acclaimed works of art. Films such as WALL-E ,
Finding Nemo, and The Incredibles have contributed to the pop-culture lexicon, giving us iconic characters like Dory, Frozone, and EVE. What makes Pixar’s filmography truly special is that the studio is more than willing to explore complex themes and emotional arcs. WALL-E tackles the consequences of corporate greed and waning environmentalism while telling a touching love story. Finding Nemo is a story of a loving, yet overprotective father who goes to great lengths to rescue his only son. The Incredibles is essentially a superhero drama about a family who’s forced to protect a society that no longer cares for people like them. Soul is the newest entry by the studio, having been directed by Pete Docter (of Up and Inside Out fame). originally supposed to have a theatrical release on Jun. 19th, 2020, but eventually went to streaming on Disney+ due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Releasing on Dec. 25th, Soul follows Pixar’s classic framework, using its characters and story to tell a powerfully effective narrative.

Not your average Joe

Image from Den of Geek
The film’s plot follows Joe Gardner (voiced by Jamie Foxx), an aspiring jazz musician stuck at a dead-end job as a middle-school band teacher. Despite the disapproval of his mother Libba (voiced by Phylicia Rashad), Joe manages to land a gig with legendary musician Dorothea Williams (voiced by Angela Bassett). However, a freak accident causes Joe’s soul to be separated from his body, and he has to find a way back to Earth--while dealing with a despondent soul named 22 (voiced by Tina Fey). The plot itself is fairly straightforward, but what makes it something ultimately poignant is that it’s willing to explore an important question: what does it mean to live? Both Joe’s and 22’s character arcs illustrate this, as they are both on opposite ends of the spectrum. Joe wants to go back to Earth to start living a life he has been chasing for years, while 22 is stuck in Limbo, having never found a real reason to live. However, that all changes when the duo manages to return to Earth, only for their souls to end up in the wrong bodies. While this dynamic is initially used for comedy, it eventually gives way for 22 to wonderfully develop as a character, as she learns the beauty in living and appreciating the little things in life. Her development is in line with Joe’s, as he grows to both understand and value the trials and triumphs of his own life, cherishing the journey rather than the destination.

It’s about time!

Image from The New York Times
Soul is quite groundbreaking, as it is the first Pixar film to feature an African-American protagonist, along with a substantial African-American supporting cast. This is very pleasing and refreshing to see, as it adds a relatability factor for many viewers, who might be able to see themselves in Joe and understand his perspective. Not only that, but it offers a hearty glimpse into a culture that desperately needs to be illustrated more in mainstream animated films.

Is this real life? Is this just fantasy? 

Unsurprisingly, the animation that brings the world of Soul to life is utterly breathtaking and is the best-looking Pixar film to date. The city of New York (one of the film’s main settings) is brought to life in spectacular detail, with buildings, shops, and even its denizens looking scarily lifelike. The worlds of the “Great Beyond” and the “Great Before” (where the titular souls inhabit) are beautifully ethereal, with an assortment of blues, greens, and purples creating these almost dreamlike realities. (Don’t be too shocked if Pixar’s next outing is so incredibly animated that it ends up just being live-action).
Sources: Business Insider Den of Geek The Grio Featured Image: ComingSoon Images: Den of Geek The New York Times