By Elaine Hegwood Bowen, M.S.J.
The new animated movie “Soul,” which features the voices of Jamie Foxx, Sheila E, Tina Fey, Questlove, Daveed Diggs, Angela Bassett and Steve Buscemi, among others, is turning out to be a delightful film for children and the entire family. It is the first Pixar film with a Black lead and introduces Joe Gardner (voice of Jamie Foxx) – a middle-school band teacher who gets the chance of a lifetime to play at the best Jazz club in town. But one small misstep takes him from the streets of New York City to The Great Before – a fantastical place where new souls get their personalities, quirks and interests before they go to Earth.
Determined to return to his life, Joe teams up with a precocious soul, “22” (voice of 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 may just discover the answers to some of life’s most important questions.
Foxx had thoughtful words about his involvement in this film during an interview with Janet Davies of ABC7 Chicago: “There is so much groundbreaking potential with this film. This is something we can all come together and take steps toward healing and put some smiles on people’s faces.” When asked about when he recognized that he wanted to be a comedian, Foxx said: “I always watched television on my grandmother’s cabinet TV. Flip Wilson, Sammy Davis Jr., Danny Kaye, I was always watching characters.” He talked about his 1994 appearance at the Regal Theatre on the South Side. “I was trying to lay them out,” as he referred to making the tough Chicago audience laugh.
During the same extended interview, Angela Bassett, who plays Jazz singer Dorethea, said, “I modeled the character off of Jazz greats Betty Carter and Dorothy Donegan.” When Phylicia Rashad who plays Libba was asked about playing an animated character, she said: “I had to just embody everything and just put it in a voice.”
Disney and Pixar have collaborated with HUE Unlimited to produce a curated collection of wearable art inspired by different aspects of the film, which was released on Disney+ on Christmas Day. This collection makes for great gift giving and features the work of four emerging Black artists.
“We’re proud to work on this meaningful collection inspired by “Soul” and to be able to have each artist’s unique vision shine through,” Michael Watson II of HUE Unlimited said.
Chicago artist Brittany “Bee” Harris has created items based on the “The Village” represented in the film. “Working on this collection was a dream come true! It was an honor to highlight the four Black women in Joe’s village. These women represent the strong-willed, supportive women in my life who have helped me discover and walk in my purpose. I walked away with a deeper understanding of myself and my capabilities as an artist. It was both challenging and inspiring to create something so unique to things I’ve done in the past.”
I reached out to Harris for more information about other inspiration. “What made working on ‘Soul’ even more special was the fact that I was sharing the space with two other artists from Chicago. Often times, our city is seen as a divisive place, so it was good to come together with other talented Black people and just show support for each other.”
These other creators include: Corey Van Lew: The Great Gardner. “This was an amazing opportunity for us as artists to tap into our version of ‘The Zone’ and create a visual representation of what this moment means to us! Down to the digitally-made background paired with the hand-painted characters, I aimed to immerse people in an alternate realm of my own.”
Bianca Pastel: Joe & his Fro. “Throughout the film, Joe learns some very valuable lessons about his journey, so I wanted to express the connection between colors, characters and stories in every detail. Throughout the process, I realized I could create authentically, be myself with my process and have fun with my art—which is exactly what I did.”
Arrington “Heir” Porter: Joe’s World. “Creating artwork for this collection was an awesome experience. As an artist, I found myself connected to the film, relating back to a familiar place within my own love for music and being in constant pursuit of my dreams. Outside of being a visual artist, I too am a pianist—so I related to Joe’s character on a more personal level.”
The Crusader was issued a screener link to review the film, but I was unable to access it, even after going through all the security protocols with Disney Plus. The problem was that no one would answer my email asking for assistance, although I waited until after the holidays to send it. The lack of access for the Crusader to view upcoming releases of some films, not all—as do other media outlets—is an issue that I plan to try to overcome this year.
Disney and Pixar’s “Soul” is streaming exclusively on Disney+. To check out the collection of “Soul” inspired merchandise, visit [https://www.shopdisney.com/movies-shows/pixar/soul/].
For more information about the film, visit [https://movies.disney.com/soul].