Film Review: How did Pixar know “Soul” much about me?!

Pixar has rarely disappointed its fans. At least not this one.

Which explains why today’s blog, only my third attempt to review films so far, is the second involving one of their works!

I mean, try finding me someone alive on this planet today who’s yet to watch any of the Toy Story movies, or Up or Inside Out. (My elderly mom and sis don’t count!)

But for the first time, I watched one that made me wonder: Did they secretly research about me to know what I needed at this point in my life?

How could they have known?!!

Soul

The souls of musician Joe Gardner, right, and 22, left, in the Disney/Pixar animated film “Soul.” Image courtesy Disney/Pixar

Watching their most recent work “Soul” last Friday evening, I found myself most of the way through still trying to figure out where the punch line was. As with any film with a heart and a message, there will always be more than one way you can “skin the cat” on that, right?

Put another way, the tail, oops I mean tale, might well have nine themes to them. Like the nine lives of a cat!

And considering that in this case there really was a cat in the story, I knew it was going to be one “cat-aclysmic” theme to knock the audience off their feet. (Okay no more cat puns I promise!)

I just didn’t realise the one who was gonna be knocked off his feet that evening was me!

Waiting

There have been so many moments in my life, countless moments, when I kept thinking that my “gig” is waiting for me just around the corner. I just have to keep looking, keep searching, keep pursuing.

What this meant was that all my life, I was hardly ever “in the moment”, no matter what that moment was. Reading a book, I would be thinking about a different book. Having a meal, my thoughts would drift to the next meal. Playing frisbee with my kids, my eyes would often scan the rest of the playground to see what other kids and parents were doing.

It’s like I just can’t seem to enjoy what’s before me wholeheartedly anymore. With possibly the exception of a night out at the cineplex (then again, who goes there anymore these days right?!). I’m so distracted by what “could be” versus what “is”.

Like Joe Gardner, the protagonist in this film. He’s a struggling music teacher living in New York. who’s always waiting for his next “gig”. And that gig for him meant being a jazz musician, and having a chance to play with jazz legends in some famous downtown club.

(Quick note here before I continue:
I’ve no doubt this film’s bursting with lots of nods to lots of jazz legends and jazz music history. Neither of which I’m in any position to speak about without exposing my cluelessness. So I won’t embarrass myself nor insult the greatness that is jazz. Except to say I absolutely DO love “jazz-ing”. That’s what the other pivotal character in the film, “Soul 22”, calls the act of joyously celebrating music and life)

Meantime, Joe was always feeling down and out, teaching music to a rag-tag bunch of middle-schoolers, all the while hoping to realise his dead father’s dream and become a jazz musician. Somehow he never got the gig.

So he spends his days in what to him was the doldrum life of inspiring other kids to love music.

Clueless me ought to have picked up on that already, but I’m getting ahead of myself here.

Sorry.

Almost

By a stroke of luck one day, Joe secured a gig with a jazz legend saxophonist Dorothea Williams and her jazz quartet that performed in a downtown club called Half Note. This was thanks to Dorothea’s drummer, who happened to be Joe’s former student.

And wouldn’t you know it, right after securing the gig, our man falls into a manhole on his way home and gets into an out-of-body experience! His body laid in a coma while his soul travelled to what the film calls the “Great Beyond”.

Talk about a good day gone bad lickety-split!

Fighting to be reunited with his body and make it in time for that night’s jazz gig, Joe managed to escape the Great Beyond and enter the “Great Before”. That’s where pre-born souls were mentored and prepped with personalities and character traits before being sent to Earth.

He ended up mentoring “Soul (number) 22”, a recalcitrant cynic in the Great Before that had been unsuccessfully mentored by history’s luminaries. These included Carl Jung, Gandhi and even Mother Teresa. In all that time, no one could spark Soul 22’s passion for life and desire to be sent earthwards.

Eureka!

At this point, it was pretty clear what the rest of the film’s plot would be about, so I’m going to spare you the details and (*mischievous grin*) go straight to the dreaded spoiler.

Sorry again (*wink*).

As stories go, this one turned out to have a “non-twist” my jaded nature failed to pick up until nearing the end. I say jaded cos I’ve seen more films in my life than I have changed socks! You probably have to.

And I say “non-twist” because I actually expected something wonderfully unexpected. Like maybe Soul 22 was actually Joe’s dad. Or maybe even Joe himself, in some cinematic plot twist!

Sometimes being jaded is its own trap I guess.

What surprised me was that not only did Joe get a second chance to return to his body, he managed to inspire Soul 22 enough to want a shot at life on earth too. And he learnt at the end of the story that he’s actually had his “gig life” all along.

They included his devoted seamstress mother Libba, who only wants him to be happy in a stable teaching job as opposed to being a jazz musician. The sparks of musical talent (like Connie the budding trombonist) hidden among his ragamuffin band of students. And the good friends he had like good-natured barber Des, and his ex-student Curley who got him the gig.

The thing that moved me most though was what I said earlier. The film seemed to tap right into my unending struggle to value what I have now and be “in the moment”, rather than always dwelling in the past or agonising about the future.

I’ve clean forgotten this, or rather I thought I had this thing about cherishing the “here and now” nailed.

If anyone’s going to be enjoying the moment, it ought to be a middle-age guy who teaches part time, parents most of the time, and blogs the rest of it. Right? What to the rest of the world would look very much like the coveted retirement dream life, except maybe the parenting part!

But that my friend couldn’t be further from the truth!

All day long I worry about the next pay cheque; the next set of school homework I need to coax my stubborn boy to complete; the next inspiration to fuel my writing.

In so doing, I’ve failed to just sit and marvel at the exceptional privilege I now have. To have time to stop and smell the “proverbial roses”, or orchids in the case of my little equatorial tropics of a home.

So thanks Pixar for waking up this ingrate to cherish the present and relish every moment.

Like Soul 22, may my Soul be sparked anew, refreshed and restored every day. To enjoy each “jazz-ing” opportunity I am granted with while here on God’s green earth.

And like Joe, may I find contentment in the little sparks currently in my life, and come to see that they might well be the very purpose of my life, instead of that one big but elusive “gig”!

(PS My mom and sis did watch Soul with me; their first Pixar film. So my earlier postulation holds!)

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