Dedicated To All Our Mentors — Why 'Soul' Is Pixar's Paramount Movie Yet

REVIEW/MEANING
by Violetta Efimova
27.02.2021
Pixar's new animated film lit up the Christmas night of the past year, still following the formula of the childish cartoon juxtaposed with quite unchildish questions.
And it's not very astonishing given Peter Docter taking up the director's chair. Being the chief creative officer of the Pixar Animation Studios, Docter glorified himself as the developer of such animated feature films as Up (2009) and Inside Out (2015). Both of them favour existential issues as the paramount storyline. And Soul (2020) may perfectly enclose the outstanding trio.

A middle school music teacher and jazz pianist Joe Gardner (voiced by Jamie Foxx) is discontented with life — espousing himself to jazz music, he never attains something substantial. Once Joe receives a call from his former student Curley (Questlove) suggesting that Joe should audition for a vacant place in the band of jazz legend Dorothea Williams (Angela Bassett). The testing goes surprisingly well — Joe gets the job and, having the head in the clouds, doesn't even notice anything happening in the street. But the watershed moment does come when Joe falls to death in a manhole.
However derisive this turning-point could seem, Joe comes to himself already on the way to the Great Beyond — or to the netherworld, as we would call it. Trying to evade it and to go back to life, he somehow manages to get to the Great Before — the world where human souls are trained to be eventually sent to Earth. By coincidence, Joe is assigned as a mentor of 22 (Tina Fey), a presumptuous and prima facie self-confident soul that doesn't even care about becoming a part of the human realm (which has been proven by failing attempts of lots of her famous ex-mentors — Kopernicus, Gandhi, Abraham Lincoln and even Mother Teresa). Thus, having lost his meaning of life and the life itself, Joe commences helping 22 in searching for her own spark — the last element which entitles the soul to go to Earth.
Like in Up, where Carl Fredricksen is trying to find a sense of life after his wife's death and does it after fulfilling their common dream, Joe Gardner discovers this meaning too — but only after he's lost his own life. The verity always turns out to be palpable — the main purpose of life is to live. In the search for the universal recognition single-minded Joe has forgotten how talented his students could be if he ever paid attention to them; how many talking points could be found if he didn't chatter only about jazz with his friends; and how caring and thoughtful his mother could be if he ever listened to her opinion. But after meeting 22 and realizing the responsibility for someone who needs this purpose of life even more than he does, Joe eventually comprehends what it's like to be a mentor and how he can influence his disciple's life path.

The film seems to be a self-evident reference to It's a Wonderful Life (1947), but with a reversed plot — unlike Joe, the main character George has always been upholding others, forgetting about himself. When after a suicide attempt George meets an angel, he's shown how much poorer the world would be without him. In both pictures, there's an explicit line of fighting with the Death, and in Soul it's embodied in Terry — an unshaped soul counter in the Great Beyond who's pursuing Joe's soul to retrieve it back to the netherworld.

Soul stands out from all the previous works by Pixar not only due to the film's vast existential meaning. It takes a huge stride towards the animation perfection making the streets of New York City so realistic as if they were truly caught on a camera, let alone skillfully enshrined mystique of the Great Beyond and the Great Before. The sophisticated background is supplemented with the cast's voices enlivening the characters from within, with Jamie Foxx playing the leading role of the first African-American animated protagonist ever created by Pixar.

In the light of Joe's life, the love for music goes through the whole storyline becoming the cartoon's main feature, and the creators don't even leave any doubt that the film is nothing but pure dedication to the art of jazz. Collaborating with such artists as 'Nine Inch Nails' Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross (who are chiefly famous for their work on some of David Fincher's most prominent films) and Jon Batiste, Peter Docter's characters literally imbue the outward things with their living passion for jazz.
The brand new project has proven once again that Pixar isn't something entirely for infants anymore. Irrespective of what age we are, living on Earth is always heaven. Spending time with somebody who fostered huge love to your life's work, tasting a slice of pizza for the first time or even contemplating autumn leaves falling down from trees and symbolizing the change of seasons — in the big world small joys of life still matter.
 
Dedicated To All Our Mentors — Why 'Soul' Is Pixar's Paramount Movie Yet


REVIEW/MEANING
by Violetta Efimova
27.02.2021
Pixar's new animated film lit up the Christmas night of the past year, still following the formula of the childish cartoon juxtaposed with quite unchildish questions.
And it's not very astonishing given Peter Docter taking up the director's chair. Being the chief creative officer of the Pixar Animation Studios, Docter glorified himself as the developer of such animated feature films as Up (2009) and Inside Out (2015). Both of them favour existential issues as the paramount storyline. And Soul (2020) may perfectly enclose the outstanding trio.

A middle school music teacher and jazz pianist Joe Gardner (voiced by Jamie Foxx) is discontented with life — espousing himself to jazz music, he never attains something substantial. Once Joe receives a call from his former student Curley (Questlove) suggesting that Joe should audition for a vacant place in the band of jazz legend Dorothea Williams (Angela Bassett). The testing goes surprisingly well — Joe gets the job and, having the head in the clouds, doesn't even notice anything happening in the street. But the watershed moment does come when Joe falls to death in a manhole.

However derisive this turning-point could seem, Joe comes to himself already on the way to the Great Beyond — or to the netherworld, as we would call it. Trying to evade it and to go back to life, he somehow manages to get to the Great Before — the world where human souls are trained to be eventually sent to Earth. By coincidence, Joe is assigned as a mentor of 22 (Tina Fey), a presumptuous and prima facie self-confident soul that doesn't even care about becoming a part of the human realm (which has been proven by failing attempts of lots of her famous ex-mentors — Kopernicus, Gandhi, Abraham Lincoln and even Mother Teresa). Thus, having lost his meaning of life and the life itself, Joe commences helping 22 in searching for her own spark — the last element which entitles the soul to go to Earth.
Like in Up, where Carl Fredricksen is trying to find a sense of life after his wife's death and does it after fulfilling their common dream, Joe Gardner discovers this meaning too — but only after he's lost his own life. The verity always turns out to be palpable — the main purpose of life is to live. In the search for the universal recognition single-minded Joe has forgotten how talented his students could be if he ever paid attention to them; how many talking points could be found if he didn't chatter only about jazz with his friends; and how caring and thoughtful his mother could be if he ever listened to her opinion. But after meeting 22 and realizing the responsibility for someone who needs this purpose of life even more than he does, Joe eventually comprehends what it's like to be a mentor and how he can influence his disciple's life path.

The film seems to be a self-evident reference to It's a Wonderful Life (1947), but with a reversed plot — unlike Joe, the main character George has always been upholding others, forgetting about himself. When after a suicide attempt George meets an angel, he's shown how much poorer the world would be without him. In both pictures, there's an explicit line of fighting with the Death, and in Soul it's embodied in Terry — an unshaped soul counter in the Great Beyond who's pursuing Joe's soul to retrieve it back to the netherworld.

Soul stands out from all the previous works by Pixar not only due to the film's vast existential meaning. It takes a huge stride towards the animation perfection making the streets of New York City so realistic as if they were truly caught on a camera, let alone skillfully enshrined mystique of the Great Beyond and the Great Before. The sophisticated background is supplemented with the cast's voices enlivening the characters from within, with Jamie Foxx playing the leading role of the first African-American animated protagonist ever created by Pixar.
In the light of Joe's life, the love for music goes through the whole storyline becoming the cartoon's main feature, and the creators don't even leave any doubt that the film is nothing but pure dedication to the art of jazz. Collaborating with such artists as 'Nine Inch Nails' Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross (who are chiefly famous for their work on some of David Fincher's most prominent films) and Jon Batiste, Peter Docter's characters literally imbue the outward things with their living passion for jazz.
The brand new project has proven once again that Pixar isn't something entirely for infants anymore. Irrespective of what age we are, living on Earth is always heaven. Spending time with somebody who fostered huge love to your life's work, tasting a slice of pizza for the first time or even contemplating autumn leaves falling down from trees and symbolizing the change of seasons — in the big world small joys of life still matter.
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