To us Jazz music means four people on a stage all playing different songs and the opening of Pixar’s new film Soul has the Disney logo with a discordant version of, ‘When You Wish Upon a Star’ playing only to reveal it to be a group of 12 years in a music class led by part time teacher Joe (Jamie Foxx) trying to co-ordinate them all. It’s little wonder that teaching is not Joe’s first love although our Editor says he would love to teach claiming that it only involves working 5 hours a day for half the year until we pointed out that that’s what he does anyway (‘You’re fired!’ – Ed). A dedicated muso Joe actually wants to be a full time jazz pianist but it’s a heartfelt dream that’s in his soul. However his part time teaching pays the bills and much to his mum’s delight at the job offer she urges him to take up full time teaching that the school offers but at the same time he’s also given a try out with top jazz saxophonist Dorothea Williams (Angela Bassett) and having been impressed by his ability she offers him the gig.
‘I would die happy if I was to work with Dorothea’ he chimes so you just know that something bad is round the corner. It turns out to be underneath him when Joe has a fatal fall down a manhole and finds his soul on a travellator edging toward The Great Beyond aka Death!
Yes this is one of Pixar’s films that, like Upside Down, tackles the biggest issues in life namely Carpe Diem – Seize the Day! because Joe has seemingly lost the opportunity to do what he’s always wanted to do…… forever. Or has he? Desperate to get back to his Earthly body he leaps off the travellator into The Great Before, which preps trainee souls before they’re given a body to inhabit, where he finds himself mistaken for a mentor to 22 (voiced by an elfin Tina Fey) who has no desire to get her pass to a Earthly body. So in Joe and 22 we have the mismatched pair with each wanting what the other has – Joe’s desperate to get back to the his life in a photo realistic New York and 22 wants to stay in the abstract Great Before unless she can be persuaded otherwise.
Pete Docter who has pedigree in directing films with abstract and seemingly impossible concepts to film having helmed ‘Upside Down’ and here he co-writes with Mike Jones & Kemp Powers (who shares a co-directing credit also). They draw up their own rules for the abstract other worlds both Joe & 22 escaping back to Earth where both learn life lessons in the most remarkable way.
Pixar’s films have included obvious child friendly attractions such as ‘Cars’ but their best films have always been able to appeal to adults /parents who are only too familiar with what life throws at them and the theme of Finding Nemo’s fear of losing a child hits a raw nerve whilst ‘Upside Down’ personified the raging hormones of an early adolescent and how challenging it is for a parent to love their child at such a time. Soul, under Docter’s tutelage moves into ever more challenging themes with its existential angst and at times exquisite melancholy because let’s be fair who isn’t able to look back on their life with regret at all the missed opportunities and there’s always some excuse we’ll attribute it to. As 22, roaming The Great Before, succinctly puts it, ‘Can’t crush a soul here, that’s what Earth is for!’
Soul opens on Christmas Day after a year where we have all endured, and in some cases lost, so much and whist on the surface it will appeal to kids (there’s are Earth bound Joe & his cat scenes that kids will love) but at its core Soul has soul with themes that are both a challenge and an inspiration to adults directly asking, ‘How are you going to live your life?’
Here’s the Soul trailer……..