Pixar strikes Oscars gold again with dreamy fable 'Soul'

Agence France-Presse
Pixar strikes Oscars gold again with dreamy fable 'Soul'
(L-R) Dana Murray and Pete Docter, winners of Animated Feature Film for "Soul," pose in the press room at the Oscars on Sunday, April 25, 2021, at Union Station in Los Angeles.
Chris Pizzello-Pool / Getty Images / AFP

HOLLYWOOD, United States — "Soul" — Pixar's dreamy animated fable about the meaning of life, released in the middle of a deadly pandemic — on Sunday took home the Oscar for best animated film, the latest in a long line of successes for the Disney subsidiary.

The film is the 23rd feature-length movie and the latest original story from Pixar, home to the massively popular "Toy Story" franchise, as well as one-off award-winning films like "Up" and "Inside Out."

It is also the first from the animation powerhouse to feature a main character who is African-American.

"This film started as a love letter to jazz. But we had no idea how much jazz would teach us about life," director Pete Docter said as he accepted the award.

"Soul" tells the story of Joe Gardner, a humble middle school music teacher in New York who has aspirations of being a jazz pianist. 

After landing a major gig that could be his big break, Joe (voiced by Oscar winner Jamie Foxx) takes a serious fall... and finds himself caught between Earth and the afterlife.

He then ends up by mistake in the "Great Before," a world where unborn souls prepare for life and gain their personality traits — good and bad — before gaining a human body.

This abstract universe, created by Docter — who also wrote and directed Oscar winners "Up" and "Inside Out" — explores the depths of the human condition: are we born with a purpose? Does life have meaning? Do we need to find that meaning?

The film alternates between the very realistic streets of New York and the fantasy universe of the Great Before.

Pixar, which has been a pioneer in both the look and subject matter of animated films, once again takes a hard look at death, as it did in "Up" and again with "Coco."

"Soul" also borrows a page from "Inside Out" (2015), which looked at the inner workings of the mind of an introverted little girl.

Docter told Deadline earlier this year that "Soul" is "an investigation into what's really going on in life and how are we meant to live."

Co-director and writer Kemp Powers added: "It's this idea that life is about improvising and having to take all the unexpected things that are thrown at you and turn them into something of value, turn them into some beautiful."

Powers said Pixar screened the film for test audiences to make sure it was not too dark for children.

"They get everything. They're very smart," Docter told NPR. 

Docter also said they discussed the idea with "priests and rabbis and experts in Islam, Hinduism... to just see how these different traditions look at the soul and the afterlife and the world beyond our bodily forms."

"Soul" ended up competing for Oscars glory with another Pixar film, "Onward," because the awards season calendar was upended by the coronavirus pandemic, even though "Onward" was released nearly a year earlier.





As It Happens
LATEST UPDATE: April 27, 2021 - 7:17am

A unique pandemic-era Oscars kicked off in Los Angeles on Sunday with a movie-style opening credits sequence as actor-director Regina King walked into the ceremony's train station venue clutching a gold statuette.

The Academy Awards are being held in-person — shifted to a glammed-up Union Station to enable strict Covid-19 protocols — at a ceremony that reunites Hollywood A-listers for the first time in over a year.

"Live TV, here we go. Welcome to the 93rd Oscars!" said King. —  AFP

April 27, 2021 - 7:17am

This year's Oscars audience plummeted by more than half to a record low 9.85 million viewers, broadcaster ABC says Monday — a staggering if widely expected drop for a ceremony that many viewers found short on humor and star power.

The whopping 58% tumble from last year's previous 23.6 million nadir had been anticipated for Hollywood's biggest night, after other award shows held during the pandemic also suffered precipitous declines.

With movie theaters shut for most of the year, many viewers had not seen or even heard of nominees such as Chloe Zhao's "Nomadland," which was the night's big winner with three prizes but which has taken just over $2 million at the domestic box office. —  AFP

April 26, 2021 - 11:38am

Anthony Hopkins wins the Oscar for best actor for his acclaimed role as a dementia patient in the film "The Father."

Hopkins, who at 83 is the oldest actor to win a competitive Oscar, bested the late Chadwick Boseman, whose poignant role in "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom" had won him praise and a Golden Globe just months after he died of cancer at age 43.

Other nominees included Riz Ahmed ("Sound of Metal"), Gary Oldman ("Mank") and Steven Yeun ("Minari"). —  AFP

April 26, 2021 - 11:22am

Frances McDormand joins an elite Hollywood club with her third acting Oscar, for her wrenching role as Fern in the acclaimed film "Nomadland."

Her best actress win came over fellow nominees Viola Davis ("Ma Rainey's Black Bottom"), Vanessa Kirby ("Pieces of a Woman"), Andra Day ("The United States vs Billie Holiday") and Carey Mulligan ("Promising Young Woman"). —  AFP

April 26, 2021 - 11:14am

The critically acclaimed "Nomadland" — about a marginalized, older generation of Americans roaming the West in rundown vans — wins the coveted Oscar for best picture.

The much-celebrated film from Beijing-born director Chloe Zhao bested "The Father," "Judas and the Black Messiah," "Mank," "Minari," "Promising Young Woman," "Sound of Metal" and "The Trial of the Chicago 7." —  AFP

April 26, 2021 - 10:02am

Youn Yuh-jung wins the Oscar for best supporting actress for her role as feisty grandmother Soonja in the family drama "Minari."

The veteran South Korean actress bested a pack of nominees including Maria Bakalova ("Borat Subsequent Moviefilm"), Glenn Close ("Hillbilly Elegy"), Olivia Colman ("The Father") and Amanda Seyfried ("Mank"). —  AFP

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