Even though Pixar’s new movie, Soul has been out for some time now, it is still making huge waves in many ways than one throughout this awards season.
Granted, it comes from a computer animation studio that manages to have most of their films win Academy Awards, Golden Globes, and the like, so many audiences and critics would gravitate towards Pixar’s next outing. However, Soul has proven itself to be much more than that.
This marks Pixar’s first film to feature a Black protagonist, voiced by Jamie Foxx, and the first Pixar movie to feature a predominately Black cast. Kemp Powers is also the first Black co-director to work on a Disney animated feature and is the first debut Black filmmaker to win a Global Globe in the category since its inception.
“Being able to tell a universal tale that explored the meaning of life through the prism of a Black man’s experience was a special honor, and though the details are specific, I really do believe our story is universal,” Powers said in his virtual acceptance speech.
Probably one of the most creative and experimental films that Pixar has done in its history, Soul digs deeper into the human experience and explores the questions on what makes humans tick.
How do our personalities develop? Are our traits created based on our family and our surrounding environment? What’s the spark in our soul that keeps us motivated to achieve our inner aspirations in life?
Soul combines these and, like another Pixar film, Inside Out, paints the abstract ideas into a compelling, visually appealing narrative that is rarely accomplished in children’s films. It also immerses into the mood of the city of New York itself, almost having the city become its own character in critical moments.
Joe’s (Jamie Foxx) life hasn’t quite gone the way he expected. But when he finds himself in another realm helping someone else find their passion, he discovers what it truly means to have a soul. Photo courtesy by Disney/Pixar.
But what really sets it apart from the rest of the nominees and helped achieve its historic Golden Globe win was how the film addresses the issue of mortality to younger viewers through the lens of the Black experience.
Soul helps establish an understanding of what happens to a person’s soul before, during, and after their time on Earth. In a year where the entire world has been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, the film’s take of death become more impactful.
Soul follows Joe Gardner, a middle school music teacher who yearns to achieve his big dream of becoming a jazz musician. After finally hitting his big break and a chance to live his dream, Joe celebrates and wanders down the city, avoiding fatal accidents, such as falling construction pieces and incoming traffic, until he met his untimely end in the form of a manhole.
Joe is then transported to limbo where he is mistakenly assigned to a rebellious soul named 22, portrayed by Tina Fey, to help find the inner spark young souls need to eventually make their way towards Earth.
The film also explores the themes of purpose within the duo’s narrative arc: Joe wants to get back into his own body in order to achieve his dreams and 22 wants to stay in nonexistence, reluctant to join and experience life.
Similar to Inside Out‘s awareness of mental health, Soul also serves as a cautionary tale of taking ambition too seriously and losing sight of enjoying life as a whole.
Soul manages to replicate the uncertainty, joys, and struggles of life while maintaining Pixar’s child-friendly template to replicate a safe; but somewhat honest “real world” setting. As we wait for the Academy Awards to announce their nominations for Best Animated Feature, Soul has the chops on what it takes to win.
Editor’s Note: In Pixar Animation Studios’ upcoming feature film Soul, Joe Gardner is a middle school band teacher whose true passion is playing jazz. Co-directed by Kemp Powers and Pete Docter, Soul earned the Golden Globe for Best Animated Feature and Original Score. Photo courtesy of Disney/Pixar.