Between the coronavirus, George Floyd, and home schooling, 2020 was not good. So when I got a pre-screen to watch Soul, Pixar’s new animated feature about a middle-aged down-on-his-luck jazz musician, streaming on Disney + Christmas Day, it didn’t really sound like the spirit-lifter I needed right now, even if the lead character was voiced by the awesome Jamie Foxx. But I’ve got two daughters, ages 8 and 11, who are always up for a movie night, and Pixar did bring us gems like Ratatouille, The Incredibles, and Finding Nemo, so why not? My daughters and I watched Pixar’s very first Black-led movie offering together, and here’s how Soul stacks up.
The movie introduces us to Joe Gardner (Jamie Foxx), a talented 45-year-old jazz musician who dreams of playing on the big stage, but instead teaches music to middle school students who’d rather be anywhere else. His dream is hanging by a spider web thread when everything changes. He’s offered the gig of a lifetime playing with the great Dorothea Williams (Angela Bassett). He’s so elated by this miracle that he takes a bad fall into a ditch, and finds himself on the escalator to “the great beyond.” But Joe’’s not ready to give up on his dream. He will play this gig!
Now on a quest to make it back to earth, he finds himself in the space called ‘the great before’ where he meets a very jaded soul named 22 (Tina Fey). 22 is supposed to be earthbound, but refuses to make the jump because from her perspective, life is too boring. Through some plot twists, they do end up on earth together, where 22 and Joe both discover that life isn’t exactly what they thought it was. So now what?
Soul answers the question in a brilliant way. You’ll have to watch the movie to see how it gets resolved, but the real reviews are in: My 8-year-old said Soul showed her that you’re always good enough. My pre-teen got that it’s great to know what you love to do in life, but it doesn’t mean you have to do it every minute. She also loved that the film wasn’t “a gritty reminder of the grit of today’s urban grittiness” — a quote she uses from her favorite graphic novel New Kid that humorously calls out stereotypical narratives plaguing African-Americans, in which white kids want to be Kings and save the world, while Black kids just want to survive.
For me, what makes Soul even more refreshing is that Pixar actually took a chance and made a movie that is humanizing and powerful at a time where we’re still fighting the misconception that positive Black stories don’t sell. After further research, a lot made sense: the studio intentionally created a culturally sensitive and uplifting movie for its very first African-American storyline. They hired an African-American co-writer and co-director (Kemp Powers), a slew of noted jazz musicians like Herbie Hancock and The Root’s Questlove (who also plays ‘Curly’ in the film) to consult on music, and they included a handful of African-American in-house employees to make sure the film stayed clear of stereotypes and represented Joe’s life in the most authentic way.
The result? A wonderful family movie that makes the perfect ending to a truly exhausting year.
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Before you go, click here to see all the Disney+ originals you’ll want to watch with your kids.