‘Soul’ is a near-death (and near-life) experience

Pixar goes meta by successfully merging philosophy and jazz to create a vibrant and soul-warming animated feature film called Soul, its most ambitious work to date.

Released last Christmas on Disney+, Soul gave the perfect holiday gift of existential bliss (and crisis) to its viewers. The film follows a jazz pianist named Joe Gardner (voiced by Jamie Foxx) who suddenly falls into a manhole just before his “big break”. His near-death experience transports his soul to a dull afterlife and a pastel candyland beforelife, where he meets the stubborn, Earth-hating unborn soul numbered (yes, not named) 22.

Deviating from your usual children’s film, Soul ethereally tackles deeper themes like death, life, passion, and purpose. While one might think these philosophical concepts can be too nebulous and indigestible for kids, the film attempts to prove otherwise. With a dash of sweet innocence in reimagining the metaphysical, it is the film’s philosophy that reveals its calming and genuine side. It inspires guiltless enlightenment, not depressing disillusionment.

Joe Gardner (Jamie Foxx) with 22 (Tina Fey) on the pastel-colored beforelife.

On the side, Soul attempts to mirror real-life phenomena by nudging the complexities of human emotions–something expected from its director who is also behind Inside Out. It gives us a ride on the loopy push-and-pull relationship between passion and practicality, something that is completely personal to long-waiting, struggling dreamers like Joe. Before it could fall trap to a predictable ending, Soul manages to gracefully transition to a different note without sounding off-key. With a soundscape of soulful jazz and celestial orchestra, the film audibly accompanies the audience to a conclusion that is transcendent more than groundbreaking.       

Living in a specialist-dominated and success-hungry world, Soul challenges the usual narrative that a person’s purpose (or in the film, “spark”) must be a passion and the only thing they should be successful at. Featuring numerous ‘soul cameos’ of the world’s greatest minds, the film concludes that having a purpose is beyond having a specific thing to do. In its silent yet soothing way, Soul reminds us of something we usually overlook: living is simply the purpose of life. Life is simply about jazzing.

Another showcase of Pixar’s visual genius, Soul is a lesson-filled cinematic experience that is built to last for generations. Its passionate attempt to breathe life into bodiless concepts makes it easier for the audience to embrace the otherworldly.

Soul is streaming on Disney+.

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