Soul: jazzing through life

Yage Wang – Staff Writer

Contributed Photo

On a restful Christmas after an exhaustedly long and chaotic year, the Pixar factory served people around the world a metaphorical cup of steaming hot chocolate with the heart-felt movie Soul. Awarded with loads of popularity and appreciation from professional film critics, Soul contributes another lovely addition to Pixar’s long-running history of producing exquisite and thought-provoking films that include Coco, Toy Story, The Incredibles, and Monsters Inc.

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the film was Disney’s second tryout of exclusive streaming on its media behemoth, Disney+. Different than the previous release, Mulan, Soul was and still is free of charge for all Disney+ subscribers. 

Soul tells the story of a middle-aged music teacher, Joe Gardener, who dies right after landing the gig of a lifetime at his favorite jazz club. When Joe escapes from his sentence to the Great Beyond, he falls into the Great Before and desperately looks for ways to return to earth. By chance, Joe becomes the mentor of Soul 22 and is tasked with assisting her in getting an “earth pass.” 

In the chaotic journey of Joe and 22 sneaking back to earth, Joe’s soul ends up in a cat and 22 becomes stuck in Joe’s body instead. The purposeful plot finds most of its comedy chops in the film here as it twists the roles of a soul who does not want to die and a soul who does not want to live. 

In Soul, Joe is depicted as a selfish, unsuccessful man who only aims to get his life back for personal purposes. After long awaited years, he believes his gig in the jazz bar will finally fulfill his purpose as a musician. 

On the other hand, 22 is a cynical soul who appears to not show any interest in earth but is deeply afraid of the outcomes of life and doubts her worthiness of living. As Joe and 22 are stuck in their undesired bodies, they need to work together to achieve their different goals. Eventually, Joe and 22 discover some deep truths and rebuild their passion for life. As a PG rated Disney film, it develops with a joyful tone and, of course, everyone lives happily ever after as is expected from children’s entertainment. However, clichés aside, Soul has made strides to become one of the greatest in 2020.

I love this movie because it allows audiences to feel the message through the music as well as characters. It uses 100 full minutes to ask viewers a question, but does not directly hand out the answer: How do we love life again?

In Soul, there is no villain realized in an evil magician or serial killers. There’s no one who wants to take anything away from the characters, but they are still frightened of what has been given to them. 

What should we do if life is not satisfying? What if we never fulfill the spark that we are born with? What should we do after we reach the “peak” of our living purpose? What is life all about? 

There is a scene where Joe reviews his life “exhibition” and concludes his life was “meaningless.” This comment invokes fear as we ourselves ponder the same thought from time to time. And at the end of our lives, it can be difficult to reflect on a seemingly heartless world that denies us all our efforts. It’s for that reason, Joe decides to evade his death. He prematurely believes his life would be meaningful only if he performs in the jazz band of his dreams, but later finds out that living the good life is much different than he would have thought.

It might be a coincidence that Soul is streaming at the end of 2020 even though the project started running long ago in 2016. One can either consider this film as a memorial to what we’ve lost in the past year or a celebration of the little sparks that push us to keep going on. In general, the film speaks to many people who are similar to Joe and 22: people who lost strength and courage in the staggering 2020 or even earlier. And rather than haranguing about the meaning of life, Soul shows us, in a soft, jolly, and almost innocent language that the world is lovable. Likewise, the pastel blue tone and melodious jazz collide perfectly and create unexpected chemistry in the film, bringing forth an artistry feast.

Whether you’re a music lover, graphic designer, or a person who temporally falls into the hole of emptiness or fear, you will find words that speak personally to you. Soul can either be a spiritual zone for you to meditate or a gas station to fill you up and get going. 

In a video of the behind the scenes, Tina Fey, the voice actress for 22, says, “What the movie is telling us and what Joe learns is that there is more to living life than achievement which is a really interesting thing to take in. There’s just being present and being in the world and making connections and having feelings. There’s more to life than checking boxes of things you’ve wanted to achieve.”

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