Pixar to warm broken souls in new animated film

By Zhang Rui
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail China.org.cn, December 25, 2020
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The Chinese poster for the animated feature "Soul." [Photo courtesy of Pixar Animation Studios]

Pixar's new animated film "Soul" debuted in Chinese theaters on Christmas Day, just in time to cheer up all those heartbroken people who have endued a year marred by the COVID-19 pandemic and other uneasy experiences.  

Directed by two-time Academy Award winner Pete Docter and co-directed by Kemp Powers, the film tells the story of Joe Gardner, a middle-school band teacher whose true passion is playing jazz. 

But one small misstep takes him from the streets of fast-paced and jazz-centric New York City to The Great Before -- a fantastical place where new souls acquire their personalities, quirks and interests before they go to Earth. 

Determined to return to his original life, Joe (voiced by Jamie Foxx) teams up with a precocious soul, 22 (voiced by Tina Fey), who has never understood the appeal of the human experience. As Joe desperately tries to show 22 what's great about living, he soon discovers answers to some of life's most important questions. 

"Joe wants more than anything to become a professional jazz pianist," said director Docter. "So when he's offered a rare, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to play with one of the greats, he feels he's reached the top of the ultimate mountain."

Docter is the master of making high-quality animated films that touch people's hearts. He is the one who helmed "Monsters, Inc.," as well as the Oscar-winning feature films "Up" (2009) and "Inside Out" (2015). Now he is the chief creative officer at Pixar Animation Studios. 

According to executive producer Dan Scanlon, Docter's signature imagination is fully represented in the world found in "Soul." "You can tell from Pete's previous films like 'Up' and 'Inside Out' that he loves animation and loves pushing the boundaries of what it can do. But with 'Soul,' he and his team strived to go further than ever before. They wanted to show audiences a world they'd never seen before."

The director said the idea for this unique world has been 23 years in the making. "It started with my son -- he's 23 now -- but the instant he was born, he already had a personality," says Docter. "Where did that come from? I thought that your personality developed through your interaction with the world. And yet, it was pretty clear that we're all born with a very unique, specific sense of who we are. In our story, everyone is born with a soul. And those souls don't just show up unprepared, they're trained and given personality and interests."

"There's more to living than a singular passion—as expressive and fulfilling as that may be. Sometimes the small insignificant things are what it's really about. Almost any moment in our lives could be a transcendental moment that defines why we're here. This film is about broadening the idea of a singular focus to thinking more widely about what life has to offer and what we have to offer life," Docter added.

A still from the animated feature "Soul." [Photo courtesy of Pixar Animation Studios]

As co-screenwriter Mike Jones pointed out, Joe's story is relatable to everyone. "I think no matter where we are or how far we've come, we sometimes wonder about greener grass. We're always pushing. There's always that drive in an artist to create something, to never be satisfied."

Jamie Foxx, who won an Oscar and Golden Globe for his performance in 2004's "Ray," lends his voice to Joe Gardner. New soul 22 is voiced by award-winning writer, producer, author and actress Tina Fey. The film also features the voices of Phylicia Rashad, Ahmir-Khalib Thompson aka Questlove, Angela Bassett and Daveed Diggs.

Renowned musician and Grammy nominee Jon Batiste wrote the original jazz compositions and arrangements for the film, and Oscar winners Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross from Nine Inch Nails, composed the original score that follows Joe as he drifts between real and soul worlds.

"Soul" has so far received rave reviews. The film currently holds an approval rating of 97% on review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes based on 148 reviews, with an average score of 8.30/10. The site's critics consensus states, "A film as beautiful to contemplate as it is to behold, Soul proves Pixar's power to deliver outstanding all-ages entertainment remains undimmed." On the review aggregation website Metacritic, 38 reviews combine for an average score of 85 out of 100, receiving "universal acclaim." Many believed the film to be a strong contender for next year's Oscar for best animated feature.

According to a China.org.cn reporter who saw an advance screening of the film, it is a "complex, spectacular and imaginative adventure with salvation, and finally, enlightenment through a simple philosophical thought." Many other Chinese critics agreed that the film is a surprising, inspiring, warming and healing, and makes for the perfect farewell to a year full of hardship.

A still from the animated feature "Soul." [Photo courtesy of Pixar Animation Studios]

China will be the major market for "Soul" in terms of theatrical release, and pop superstar JJ Lin recorded the Chinese version of the theme song "Embark."

"After watching the film, I realized that an animation can be so deep and warm. 'Soul' is a great film that delivers positive energy; exploring life, dreams, choices and what defines happiness," said Lin, “We can all identify with this film, which gives rise to new questions and discussions about life. And the energy that the film brings represents the expectations for our dreams and life."

But the hardship has not ended yet. Outside of China, the critically claimed movie will largely hit Disney's streaming service Disney+ in other markets. "Soul" will skip U.S. theaters amid the ravaging COVID-19 pandemic. The good news, however, is that The Walt Disney Company said it will not charge Disney+'s 60 million subscribers an extra fee to see "Soul."

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