Pixar may have started simple with talking toys, but their concepts have grown increasingly elaborate over the years, giving abstract shape to interior consciousness (“Inside Out”), brightening a peopled world of the dead (“Coco”) and conjuring a mythical suburban land with a father’s half-resurrected body (“Onward”). “Soul” is a step further, again: a grand metaphysical whatsit — a mid-life crisis movie, a New York jazz fantasia and a body-swap comedy, all in one.
Part of the fun, of late, with Pixar’s more ambitious movies is following a plate-spinning act that juggles animation whimsy, kids movie imperatives and the meaning of life in some seemingly impossible combination that nevertheless in the end makes us cry. You can imagine a Pixar Mad Libs coming up with a movie about hamsters in space that’s really about graduating high school, or one with unicorn cousins who learn to cope with trauma.
But part of what’s refreshing about “Soul,” which debuts Friday on Disney+, is its uniqueness. It’s a deliberate and overdue new direction for Pixar. The animation giant’s 23rd film, “Soul” is its first to feature a Black protagonist. Kemp Powers, the screenwriter of the upcoming “One Night in Miami,” is also Pixar’s first African American co-director. The film is lushly set in a sun-dappled Manhattan. You will even hear, for a moment, A Tribe Called Quest playing in the background of a barbershop. For an animation world that has almost always been colored white, this borders on radical. It’s also joyous.
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