Pixar Pours Heart and ‘Soul’ into Existential Animated Film


Courtesy of Pixar Animation Studios

“Soul” breaks ground in Pixar Animation history by being the first film to feature an African-American protagonist. Behind the scenes, Pixar also defies expectations in representation by including one of the most diverse voice casts, which has a majority of Black voice actors.

Spoiler warning: This article contains spoilers for the movie “Soul.” 

It is not often that animated films explore philosophical and metaphysical questions like, What is our purpose in life? and What is the afterlife going to be like? 

Released on Dec. 25 and directed by Pete Docter, “Soul” explores these topics through the lens of magical realism: something that is rare when it comes to Pixar films. As a result, “Soul” has audiences unexpectedly bawling their eyes out after realizing that life is worth living to the fullest, regardless of how much one accomplishes. 

“Soul” is set in the bustling city of New York and follows middle school jazz teacher Joe Gardener, voiced by Jamie Foxx, who harbors a burning passion for music and a dream to perform in front of a large audience. However, his dream comes to a halt when he plummets into a manhole right before a pivotal moment in his jazz career. 

Fearful that his time on Earth has come to an end, Gardener runs frantically in the opposite direction of the door leading to the Great Beyond and ends up in the Great Before: a place where unborn souls reside before they are sent to Earth. There he meets the unborn soul “22,” and together they make a plan for Gardener to return to Earth by embarking on a journey to discovering 22’s spark, which is the last element a soul must acquire before heading to Earth. 

Throughout the movie, Soul unravels deep topics and important questions in a playful way, painting the struggles of mortality reassuringly and leaving a soul-stirring impact for the audience. Tina Fey and Jamie Foxx both effectively voice the role of their characters, conveying realistic emotions that are often difficult to see in animated films. 

Despite the film’s hypnotic and engaging plot, its target audience is questionable. While the storyline and deeper meaning are only understandable for those who relate to these stressful, existential issues of life, the colorful visuals and cartoon graphics appeal to a younger audience who may not comprehend the message. This brings up the question of who the movie was made for — children or the general public? 

Although the aim of the creators is unclear, the timelessness and maturity of the film piques interest in most viewers, especially those looking for a different outlook on life.