Soul (AU/UK/US - PG)

In a word: Transcendent

Film Soul

The souls of musician Joe Gardner, right, and 22, left, in the Disney/Pixar animated film 'Soul'. PICTURE:Disney/Pixar

Pixar have had a reputation of pioneering new ideas and technology in their animated films. With Soul, Pixar’s 23rd movie, they once again break new ground. Soul is the first of Pixar’s films to feature an African-American as the lead. It is the first of their feature films to premiere on the streaming platform Disney+. And it also charts new territory by exploring themes of life, death and the very meaning of existence.

Joe Gardner (Jamie Foxx) is a middle school music teacher whose greatest dream is to perform jazz in a legendary band. On the day his dream is about to be fulfilled, Joe suddenly dies and find himself at the entrance to “The Great Beyond". Desperate to return to his body, he flees the Great Beyond and stumbles into “The Great Before", where souls are being prepared for their life on Earth. There, Joe is mistaken as a mentor and assigned to soul number 22 (Tina Fey) who has spent millennia refusing to find any reason to live on Earth. This mismatched pair experience one misadventure after another as they eventually learn a valuable lesson about what it means to be alive.

"The cleverness of the concept is matched by a witty script full of twists and turns. The weight of the subject matter is lightened by the comic performances of Foxx, Fey and a cameo by Graham Norton as the captain of the 'Mystics without Borders' who rescue lost souls through transcendental meditation."

In order to tackle such grand themes, Pixar needed to navigate tricky topics that are normally reserved for religion and philosophers. They cleverly succeeded in creating a fictional world to convey universal truths. In this fictional world, the supernatural beings that manage all the souls are all called “Jerry” and are depicted as Picasso like entities that can morph in shape. The souls that are preparing to be born are shown as cute, Casper-like floating blobs that require a completed “personality badge” to enter life on Earth. In the midst of all this fantastic fiction, however, a clear truth can be seen: that we all have an eternal soul and that our life on Earth is a precious gift.

The cleverness of the concept is matched by a witty script full of twists and turns. The weight of the subject matter is lightened by the comic performances of Foxx, Fey and a cameo by Graham Norton as the captain of the “Mystics without Borders” who rescue lost souls through transcendental meditation.

Music, being a central theme of the film, also required special attention. For this, US musician Jon Batiste was charged with creating original, user-friendly jazz that would feel authentic and be widely appreciated. Trent Reznor, frontman of rock band, the Nine Inch Nails, composed the electronic, otherworldly soundscape of the Great Beyond. These varied styles create two distinct atmospheres, one that represents the complexity of life on earth and the other evocative of the sense of the wonder in eternity.

The message of Soul is ultimately one of appreciation. What begins as an exploration of purpose, destiny and passion, shifts to themes of sacrifice and gratitude. In the end, Joe discovers that in dreaming of a grand ambition he has let years pass by completely unfulfilled. Together with 22, he learns that life on earth is best lived when you appreciate every moment and treasure even the little thing that life has to offer.