Pixar’s ‘Soul’ Sets a New Standard for Animation

Pixar’s Soul, which was released late last year, explores the idea of human purpose, passion and death by combining different animation styles to evoke an emotional response. The movie follows Joe (Jaime Foxx), a man who’s accidental death arrives just at the time in his life when his career as a musician starts to come together. In order to get back to Earth to make his audition for his dream job, he teams up with 22 (Tina Fey), a soul that never wants to get their “spark” and leave the spirit world.  

While the story is heartfelt and tender, what really makes this film standout is the variation in the animation used. The scenes in the corporeal world have such a crisp realness to them while still feeling vibrant and fun. Additionally, the artistic animation clearly draws from caricatures and the emphasization of human features. Characters that are physically exaggerated not only help the audience differentiate them visually, but it also furthers a theme of the film- that everyone has their personal talent or “spark” that makes them unique. The physicality of uniqueness is continued throughout the film. When Joe transforms into a blue blob of a soul, his presence feels the same because he keeps his hat and glasses. 

Disney Pixar

Abstracted animation guides much of the spiritual world scenes in Soul. When Joe lands on the spirit bridge and falls through the black and white-lined void, it’s entrancing. In many ways, the use of line work and neon color is reminiscent of Mary Ellen Bute’s non-narrative short film Tarantella, which features randomly moving  colorful lines and shapes. The film is named after the waltz that accompanies the animation and inspires the movement in the frame, which is quite similar to what happens in this Pixar picture. 

Blank space is essential in the ephemeral world of Soul where the real focus is the emotional response the audience has, rather than the plot of the story. The spirit world is mostly cool, pastel and has minimally outlined characters with wavering opacity. Everything blends together, unlike the tangible, warm toned scene on Earth. These two worlds, Earth and the spirit realm, juxtapose each other while still feeling related, which keeps the visual storytelling interesting.

 Music is at the heart of Soul’s central narrative, and the animation makes sure to highlight its importance, especially in the life of the main character, Joe. When he plays, his surroundings fade and he enters into what the film describes as a moment of inspiration. There is so much movement and back and forth between the musician and his instrument that at times these musical scenes feel like a conversation; however, instead of words being exchanged, there is a reciprocation of volatile emotion through color.  This movie was made for more than just children or animation lovers. Soul combines numerous animation techniques and styles to answer its central question- what makes a life fulfilling? While it doesn’t answer that question for everyone, the movie still manages to tell a beautifully compelling story that brings attention to all the joys of life.

Soul’ is available to stream on Disney+.

By Kyra Matus

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