Soul. Where does it come from? How do you know if you have it? What is it?
Ask an artist and they’ll tell you it’s in the way a musical instrument is passionately played or in the way a dynamic voice expresses every note when singing goosebump-inducing runs. Turn to a religious or philosophical person and you’ll hear words like “afterlife,” “immortal,” “essence,” “heaven” or even “hell.” In all honesty, it depends on who you ask. But one question that’s often asked about the matter is “What happens to it when you leave this earth?”
Pixar’s latest comedy-drama animated film, Soul, takes viewers on a metaphysical adventure after its main character Joe Gardner (Jamie Foxx), a middle-school music teacher with dreams of becoming a world-renown jazz musician, falls (literally) to his untimely demise. Shortly after, he finds himself in another esoteric plane where he discovers he’s no longer human, but a miniature-sized essence among others like him. He meets another “soul” named 22 (Tina Fey) who has preconceived notions about life on earth and wants no parts of potentially living it. While trying to make it back to his body on Earth, Gardner helps 22 and others find their purpose while learning many life lessons of his own along the way.
“What it means to have a soul is to have compassion,” Foxx tells VIBE correspondent Jazzie Belle in a sit-down interview via Zoom. “What it means to have a soul is to have compassion for other people that may not have as much. Other people who may look different. Other people that may be struggling with certain things. That’s what soul is.”
Soul also features the likes of the television and film veterans Phylicia Rashad and Angela Bassett who voice Libba Gardner and Dorothea Williams, respectively. To them and Fey, this film offers more inspirational nuggets for people of all ages and walks of life.
“I will say to not be afraid to live your life, just because it might be scary, but to run toward life,” shared Fey. “Be determined to live and breathe your own particular uniqueness,” said Bassett, who plays Williams, a jazz musician. Rashad, who plays Joe’s mother, Libba Gardner, summed it up by adding, “And I would say that’s all true. Life is a continuum.”
The Roots’ own Questlove lent his vocal talent to play Curly, a drummer in Gardner’s high school band. He pointed out how the Dana Murray-produced film makes one question one’s way of life in the grand scheme of things.
“On the surface, it’s about a dream deferred. Can you get your spark back? Can you have a redo? Is it too late for you to fulfill a dream?” he said. “I think [Soul] it’s going to hit a lot of people that have already learned this lesson from March on down to Christmas. This is going to really affirm to them and push them over to the ledge that they were scared to jump over to take that leap of faith into our new lives.”
VIBE also had an opportunity to chat with the film’s co-directors Pete Docter and Kemp Powers as well as Murray who share their most enjoyable moment while creating the film and working with Jon Baptiste on the official soundtrack, and what they want viewers to learn from the film as it pertains to life itself.
“Everyone’s lives have value. People, and their importance and their opinions, they shouldn’t just matter if they’re rich, or famous, because not everyone aspires to the same things,” said Powers who is also a screenwriter. “It’s okay to have a whole different set of aspirations, or have no aspirations and still find fulfillment in life.“
Dope Facts: Soul is Pixar’s first animated movie with a Black man as the lead character; this film is Phylicia Rashad’s first voiceover role; Kemp Powers serves as the first Black co-director of a Pixar motion picture. Talk about history!
Soul is set to play on Disney+ beginning on Christmas Day.
These interview excerpts have been edited for length and clarity. Background music provided by Gus.