Soul is one of Pixar’s most inventive and awe-inspiring films to date, and its soundtrack is no different. The album is divided into two distinct musical styles, with one highlighting Joe Gardner’s experiences on Earth and the other representing the ethereal realms of The Great Beyond and The Great Before. For the purposes of this review, I’ll split the Soul soundtrack into these two sections and share my thoughts on how both of these genres set the tone for both the soundtrack and the film.
Part 1: The Jazz
Much of Soul highlights Joe’s life in New York, and Jon Batiste’s jazz tracks help to create the upbeat and lively atmosphere of downtown NYC. Having worked as the musical director for The Late Night Show with Stephen Colbert, Batiste is no stranger to the musical world, and his score for Joe’s Earthly life helps the film to succeed in painting a genuine and beautiful picture of African-American culture. Batiste’s tracks are very clean and fast-paced, giving jazz newcomers the chance to become immersed in the unique world of jazz music. Likewise, the film’s many jazz solos further Joe’s character development by highlighting his piano abilities and helping to convey his deep love for jazz as he gets lost in “the Zone”.
Top Tracks: “Collard Greens and Cornbread Strut”, “Born to Play”, “Epiphany”
Part 2: The Great Beyond
How do you create a soundtrack for the afterlife (or at least the Pixar version of it)? It’s simple – you hire Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. Having composed the Academy Award-winning soundtrack for The Social Network, the duo was the perfect fit to create the score of The Great Beyond, and their use of electronic elements create a sense of mystery and intrigue. Through it all, however, the score remains airy and inviting, and listeners often do not know when one theme ends and another begins. Reznor’s and Ross’s contributions to Soul are some of the few instances of electronic-based music in Pixar history, and it perfectly fits the tone of The Great Beyond and The Great Before.
Top Tracks: “Falling”, “Jump to Earth”, “Terry Time”
Part 3: My Thoughts
In the past, Pixar has incorporated a few jazz-related tracks into their soundtracks, including the main themes of both Monsters, Inc. and The Incredibles. Soul places a much greater emphasis on the jazz band, as Joe’s character development hinges on his desire to play piano with Dorothea Williams and her jazz ensemble. The Soul soundtrack does not simply rest in its beautiful jazz genre, however, as the electronic score of The Great Beyond perfectly distinguishes between the earthly and the ethereal. As compared to other Pixar classics, the Soul soundtrack is not as memorable, but it plays a much larger role in Joe Gardner’s storyline. Similarly, while I could not hum many of the tracks on the Soul album, the film score is inseparable from the visuals of the film, and the music heightens the emotional appeal of Pixar’s beautiful animation. Overall, the Soul album is one of the most unique soundtracks in Pixar’s history, and I am sure that I will be revisiting the music from Batiste, Reznor, and Ross for years to come.
Pixar’s Soul is now streaming on Disney Plus.
Corban has been a lifelong fan of The Walt Disney Company. Disney music is often the soundtrack of his life, and he loves listening to a new film score. In between reruns of The Mandalorian, you can often find him planning his next trip to the Disney Parks or rewatching classic Disney TV shows.