During every holiday season, millions nostalgically screen the James Stewart classic ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’ and for a split second contemplate what life and the people they love would look like if they ceased to exist. For George Bailey, those he loved had seemingly unimaginable outcomes with both positive and negative results. Joe Gardner (Jamie Foxx), like his father, had dreams of becoming a jazz musician, but instead settled for the security of being a high school band instructor. Just when he thought his fate had been sealed, a former student comes along with the opportunity of a lifetime – to gig as pianist for jazz great Dorothea Williams (Angela Bassett). Like most folks with a smart phone, we often aren’t paying attention to where we are walking and neither is Joe when he steps right into a manhole. From that moment on, Joe goes on his own ‘wonderful life’ journey culminating in the realization that the life so sorely desired wasn’t a path glittered in gold.
Directed by Pete Doctor and co-written by Kemp Powers (One Night in Miami), SOUL does a spectacular job of capturing the small minute detailed hustle and bustle of New York City right down to the witty, heartwarming banter in a Harlem barbershop. It’s an enjoyable viewing experience that I’m afraid may be a little too on the adult side for the kids. One thing the Disney and Pixar family does well is researching the elements of their stories making them as realistic as possible to the viewing audience, which is 1000% accomplished. Unlike most Pixar flicks, the story split between Joe’s world and another animated conveyor belt world (the Great Beyond and the Great Before) where we discover how people get their personalities. A world where adorable blobs (like ’22’ voiced by Tina Fey) and characters contained by thick black lines make the decision, based on purpose finding (aka Broadway’s AVENUE Q), whose allowed to hop back into their former selves and have no choice but to accept fate. The life lessons are plentiful within this delightful feature, but if I had my druthers, my holiday wish is that SOUL had been more solely afro-centric in the same manner the studio attacked and presented ‘Coco.’
Having said that, a most enjoyable segment of the film is the jazz session with Joe and Dorothea, the music (thanks to Jon Baptiste, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross) is exquisite and made me yearn for my days in the Village vibing at The Blue Note or The Village Vanguard. The meticulous attention paid to the key stroking of Joe during his piano solo was absolutely mesmerizing when you think just how far animation has evolved over the decades. Kudos, two snaps and a swizzle to Pixar on that front! At the end of the day, SOUL’s nod to jazz is quite impressive and as a women of color, I appreciated that our mode of communication in the community was given the proper attention through the words, energy and humor from Kemp Powers. On Christmas Day, be inspired, rejuvenated and rejoice as jazz streams to Disney Plus.