By: Daniel Kundrat, Columnist
Views expressed in opinion columns are the author’s own
Disney took the universal time, pain and purpose of 2020 and wasted none of it with its newest animated film, “Soul.” Giving Black professionals the spotlight to curate a high budget Disney animated film, whose masterpiece confronts common toxic attitudes and highlights mental health diagnoses like depression, “Soul” offers a therapeutic beginning to the new year.
“Soul” is about hot and ready jazz pianist Joe Gardner, voiced by Jamie Foxx, who’s passionate about landing the best gigs of his dreams. While he clearly had his eyes on some kind of prize, he dismissed the present moment and, well, he died.
Don’t worry! This is the background information you are meant to know, and the same information given to us in the trailer. The trailer also stretched into the “Great Beyond,” as the film put it, which is where you would expect to go after you die. In contrast, the “Great Before” is where all souls are crafted with personality traits and their “spark” before being sent to Earth.
Here, Joe meets 22, voiced by Tina Fey, who is a complete rebel-child, and believes to understand everything on Earth. 22 thinks that nothing on Earth is interesting nor worth her time. Together, Joe and 22 serve as the main protagonists.
The animation of Joe Gardner, and the community around him, carried Pixar’s signature feeling of vibrance, color and warmth. The animation itself is in a different category in its detail. As if New York City isn’t alive enough already, “Soul” made love to all five senses for the audience to experience.
From the rush of the wind as the train soars by, the sounds of car-traffic, to the city glowing into the night, and, of course, the greasy smell and taste of a slice of pepperoni pizza, Pixar showed us the euphoric sensations that Joe stirs up when he’s on the keys. The experience kind of reminded me of Remy eating a piece of cheese and a strawberry at the same time, from Pixar’s “Ratatouille.”
Aside from entertaining the entire world, this movie worked specific wonders for the black community in America. Starring Questlove, Daveed Diggs, Phylicia Rashad and Angela Bassett, this movie chose wonderful souls to give life to the supporting characters. Director Pete Docter and anthropologist Dr. Johnnetta Cole together brought an accurate representation of African-Americans on the big screen, through the cultural accounts of the barbershop and jazz music, bringing black culture curated by black professionals into the animated realm.
If you felt attacked by this movie’s message, then that means you were paying attention. While Disney has always pondered on the great wonders of life, “Soul” showed no restraint in lecturing us on how we should be viewing our one chance; from within ourselves, to around each other.
This story is just as much a pick-me-up as any other Disney movie but never before has one expressed its point in such a blunt way, especially to us adults. So take a seat, some popcorn and learn one of the biggest lessons there is from this year, and if you’ve already seen it, do your friends and family a favor, and be a good, quiet coyote.