When it comes to Pixar films I’m always prepared to be taken on an emotional journey and Soul did exactly that. Despite being in the dark about how the plot unfolded, I did know that I was delighted to see an animation based on a black family. In a time where more industries are shining a light on the black experience, Soul, the first Disney Pixar film with a black lead, couldn't have come at a better time. Despite the fact that Joe’s life as a black man is short lived the skin tones, lighting, mannerisms and the way the black characters were animated highlighted a much needed step forward for black animation. As the plot began to thicken I quickly began to realise that the film's storyline was so much more than the black representation that originally drew me in.
The film follows the life of a piano playing jazz enthusiast, Joe Gardner (Jamie Foxx), turned middle school band teacher as he tries to align his passion with his purpose. The opening scene alludes to the overall tone of not only Joe’s life but life in general. Standing at the front of the class is a frustrated but patient Joe desperately trying to orchestrate his class band. To put it lightly whatever they are supposed to be playing sounds like a cat being strangled, majority of the students are uninterested and barely keeping with the tempo.
Despite their lack of enthusiasm somehow Joe is still able to hear musical bliss amongst the chaos, which says a lot about his character. We’ve all met a Joe before: head in the clouds and heart set on fulfilling a lifelong dream. Seeing life through rose tinted glasses who wouldn't want to be Joe? In fact, I am Joe, we all are to an extent.
There’s no doubt that Joe has talent. His love for jazz started when his dad first took him to a jazz bar as a pre teen. From that day onwards he made it his life goal to perform on stage and in the face of years of rejection he still put his best foot forward, striving towards his dream. Despite having a clear passion and drive, when Joe’s soul crosses over to the afterlife it becomes lost. What I appreciated the most about this moment was that it highlights how becoming obsessed with achieving goals does more harm than good and in a year like 2020 it felt like looking in a mirror as Joe slowly began to discover this harsh reality. The writers and animation of the ‘fight or flight’ feeling that has been floating through this year is breathtaking.
In one of my favourite scenes of the film, Joe's visit to the barber shop sees him go in for a fresh cut but leave with a new perspective on life. The fellowship, comradery and the empty chair from the barber that nobody wants to cut their hair captures the true essence of the black barber experience which I have never seen in a Disney Pixar film.
What differentiates this film from other Pixar classics, is that the film thematically poses deep philosophical questions that have no solid answer. Halfway through I found myself questioning my purpose, passions and personality and whether one was more dominant in my life than the other. These unanswered questions are very heavily loaded and not what I was expecting when I saw the initial trailer or artwork for the film. It definitely brought to mind that just because the film is animated doesn’t mean that it is only for children, after the year that we’ve had it's impossible not to be affected by the film's message.