Movie Review: ‘Soul’ brings music, star power to PIXAR

PixarBlack culture and the world of jazz are explored in the new animated feature, 'Soul.'

Deep inside “Soul,” Pixar’s first feature to fully honor the Black experience, there may have been a second movie that didn’t quite get created. That’s okay, because what we have is wonderful. However, after watching the film, I thought that it would have made a razzle-dazzle be-bop musical.

“Soul” is about Joe (voiced by a terrific Jamie Foxx), a lively fellow who teaches music in high school and also enjoys noodling about as a jazz pianist. He dreams of playing professionally. Through an urban accident that I’ll keep secret, Joe awakens in an interesting variation of heaven. Joe adores jazz so much that when he shakes off the circumstance that has brought a strange change to his life, he focuses on returning to Earth.

He’s got plans for a big jazz opportunity, which is sitting in with a popular band at New York City’s Half Note club. Joe is going to need a little bit of luck and the intervention of a spirit to escape where he is — a realm known as the Great Before. How he comes across a spirit called 22 (a nifty Tina Fey), and how this character fits in with Joe’s resurrection, is what helps “Soul” deliver a delightful panoply of whimsy, charm, and artistry.

Co-directed by Pete Docter and Kemp Powers, who both co-wrote the screenplay with Mike Jones, the movie is beautiful to look at, offering something magical that is reminiscent of the soft, albeit vivid, autumnal colors often delivered by Woody Allen and the talented cinematographers of his films. The original music is perfect, a mix of jazz from Jon Batiste and electronica by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross.

The film recognizes the importance of jazz, and there’s a welcome tribute to its history throughout this animated delight. The voice acting is excellent and includes Angela Bassett as Dorothea, Phylicia Rashad as Libba, and Graham Norton as Moonwind. Their characters are fun to watch and pleasant to hear.

“Soul,” which can be accessed on Disney+, is about relaxing with who you are, but to never give up on your dreams, regardless of where you find yourself, even in an unusual place not quite on the map. There’s a nice sense of Joe’s life — we recognize him as someone we’d enjoy knowing. It’s a film you’ll enjoy watching.

Michael Calleri reviews films for the Niagara Gazette and the CNHI news network. Contact him at moviecolumn@gmail.com.

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