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Movie Review: 'Soul' Emphasizes Spark Over Purpose in Life

by Todd A. Smith


In “Soul,” Jamie Foxx voices the character Joe, a struggling musician and middle school band instructor. The film will debut on Disney+ beginning Dec. 25. (Photo Credit: 2020 Disney/Pixar).



Living or Just Existing? 


Have you ever wondered if you are fulfilling your purpose in life?

Sure, you might have a decent job and a roof over your head.

But are you truly living up to your full potential?

Well, the Pixar animated movie “Soul” is a beautiful and poetic reminder that when you are searching for your purpose in life, it is still important to live and enjoy your life before it is too late.

In “Soul,” Joe (Jamie Foxx, voice) will remind HBO’s “Treme” fans of Antoine Batiste (Wendell Pierce).

Joe has a job that pays the bills, teaching band to middle school students.

Nevertheless, Joe is extremely miserable and feeling like he has so much more to offer the music world.

Although Joe has not made it as a serious musician, his love and passion is still in gigging.


He is not fascinated with teaching uninterested middle school students the importance and significance of jazz music.


The only things that separate Joe from Antoine is that Joe is animated while Antoine is an in the flesh character.


Furthermore, Antoine gigs around the city of New Orleans for peanuts, while Joe struggles to find any luck in New York City as far as gigs are concerned.


In “Treme,” Antoine’s baby mother and ex-wife nag him about keeping the teaching job because it provides solid income and benefits.


But in “Soul,” Joe’s mother stays on him for the same reasons.


Like Antoine, Joe’s financial luck begins to change when the school offers him the band instructor job full-time, with benefits.


But at the same time, Joe finally gets the gig of his dreams, playing piano for jazz music star, Dorothea Gibson (Angela Bassett, voice).


One of Joe’s former students put in the good word with Dorothea and when Joe aces his audition he is on cloud nine.


The euphoria only lasts temporarily as Joe falls into a New York City manhole while celebrating his breakthrough moment in the music industry.


What makes matters worse for Joe in “Soul” is that his first gig with the Dorothea Gipson Quartet is that very night.


Therefore, Joe has to find himself out of the hole in enough time to make it to the jazz club for the opportunity of a lifetime.


However, what is perplexing to Joe is that he does not look like himself and he does not recognize his surroundings as anyplace on Earth.


Has Joe passed on to the Great Beyond?


Or is Joe simply dreaming?


Regardless, he has to get out of his current predicament if he is ever to fulfill his purpose of becoming a professional jazz musician.


Actually, Joe is in a holding pattern known as the Great Before.


The Great Before is where souls develop before they are born as people on Earth.


Joe desperately wants to get back into his body and back on Earth to try living again.


If Joe gets a second chance to live his life would he approach his life differently?


Plus, if he gets a second chance will Joe correct some of the errors of his ways that have hindered him from reaching his true potential?


Or does Joe have tunnel vision, simply trying to get back to the club in time so that he does not blow an opportunity of a lifetime?


First and foremost, “Soul” is not just a movie for children like many animated pictures.


Moviegoers of all ages will marvel at the brilliant computer-animated set designs that mirror the brownstones and subways of the “Big Apple.”


The set design department only failed when designing the Great Before.


That artwork in the Great Before looks a little sophomoric when compared to the artwork used during the New York City scenes.


Unfortunately, many movies (animated or not) do not get the atmosphere of a particular city correct.


Films like “Jason’s Lyric” and “When the Bough Breaks” come to mind because they did not fully capture the cities of Houston and New Orleans, respectively.


In both movies, the accents of the characters did not match the cities that they represented, although the backdrop was definitely H-Town and “The Big Easy.”


But in “Soul,” moviegoers will feel that they are in the “Big Apple” with the distinct architecture, fast pace and bad attitudes.


The only thing missing is the correct New York dialect.


But it is better for actors like Foxx to not even attempt to get the accent right if they cannot pull it off as opposed to butchering the Houston accent like Allen Payne did in “Jason’s Lyric” in 1994.


Despite the fact that “Soul” got the architecture and the pace correct, it cannot fully measure up to capturing the essence of a city like “Treme” did.


While “Soul” has similarities character-wise with “Treme,” very few pieces of art accurately capture a city’s flavor like “Treme.”


But “Soul” succeeds as a work of art because it will resonate with moviegoers of all backgrounds, not just children.


Furthermore, what movie only dedicated to children features the smooth and sultry sounds of jazz stars like Jon Batiste?


And although “Soul” comes off as a children’s film on the surface because of the animation, some of the concepts might be too deep to simply pigeonhole the film.


The title “Soul” comes off as a double entendre.


As a musician, Joe produces some soulful sounds on the piano.


But on a much deeper level, “Soul” details the development of the soul, which essentially makes each individual unique from others.


And “Soul” deals with spark instead of purpose.


While purpose is important in life, one has to realize that spark is just as important.


Purpose deals with why a person is alive.

But spark deals with a person’s desire to live.

Sometimes, people can get so caught up in fulfilling their dreams in life that they forget to just live and enjoy the little time they have on this planet.

So the true question is not is a person fulfilling their purpose?


But is a person taking time away from their purpose to just enjoy the fruits of their labor?






This article was published on Tuesday 22 December, 2020.
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