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Eight ways Pixar's 'Soul' gets NYC right

From Pizza Rat to the subway, the new flick on Disney+ hit all the right notes.

Shaye Weaver
Written by
Shaye Weaver

On Christmas Day, Disney+ released the newest Pixar film, Soul, about jazz enthusiast and music teacher Joe Gardner (voiced by Jamie Foxx) whose soul gets separated from his body when he nearly dies in an accident. Joe is taken to the Great Beyond but refuses to go into the light. Instead, he lands in The Great Before, where he teams up with another soul, 22 (voiced by Tina Fey), to show her what's great about living. Along the way, he also learns plenty about himself.

RECOMMENDED: Soul review: Pixar’s jazzy odyssey into the great beyond never quite soars

Soul is a fun film and incredibly animated, but one of the most impressive parts of the film is how it completely understands what it's like to live in New York City. Here's how:

(Warning: Spoilers below!)

1. The pure insanity of the city streets

When Joe and 22 arrive in NYC and head out on the town, the masses of people crowding the sidewalks, the incessant jackhammering, the blaring sirens and the mad rush forward spins 22 out of control. Overwhelmed, she wants to stop in her tracks but Joe tells her: "This is New York City! You don't stop in the middle of the street. Go go go!" 22 ends up huddled in a corner out of the way, which is understandable for someone who's never been in the big city before. 

2. The power of a great slice of pizza

The only way Joe is able to get 22 to calm down is by giving her a slice of New York-style pizza—something that would cure any troubled mind. Joe nabs it from an open counter and gives it to 22 as a peace offering. Immediately she is wowed and learns the power of a good dollar slice.

3. Pizza rat

In the same scene, Joe (who is inside a cat's body at this point) crosses paths with the infamous Pizza Rat himself, dragging his own slice. The local rodent celebrity's appearance is most certainly an inside joke for all New Yorkers watching. If you've been wondering how Pizza Rat is doing since he was discovered, this little cameo optimistically imagines him still out there getting his slice.

4. The crazy street sign guy that we ignore and other oddities on the street

Pixar's Soul
Photograph: Courtesy Disney/Pixar

New Yorkers are used to seeing weird shit on the street, and yeah, it can be disturbing, but we keep on moving. Soul shows this brilliantly. Joe is dressed only in a hospital gown and no one turns their head. We also pretend not to see the sign spinner who's always on that one corner. He's become part of the landscape that we traverse and in Soul, it's no different. The joke though is that the spinner in Soul, Moonwind, is a spiritual guru of sorts who is able to help Joe and 22 navigate the spiritual/soul realm all while he's spinning. 

5. The drudgery of taking the subway

Very few movies and films have gotten the experience of riding the subways as right as Soul has. In the film, it's a joyless space shown through the blank staring faces that surround Joe and 22. The station is grimy and dark and getting too close to someone ends in a "Take it easy, eh?" When Joe the cat sits down on the perfectly recreated subway car, the woman next to him does the quick slide over maneuver that we all habitually do when we want space. "Don't worry. It's the subway," Joe tells 22. "It does that to some people. It wears you down. It stinks. It's hot. It's crowded. Every day it's the same thing, day in and day out."

6. The West Village Jazz scene

Pixar's Soul
Photograph: Courtesy Disney/Pixar

A big part of the movie takes place in the Village because Joe is a jazz musician who aspires to play with big names like saxophonist Dorothea Williams, particularly at the Half Note Jazz Club. If the club's logo and name are very familiar, it's because the Village in real life is known for its famous Blue Note Jazz Club and The Village Vanguard, where greats have played for decades. In fact, they're some of the leading jazz clubs in that neighborhood that is currently struggling to make it amid the pandemic

7. The community found in small mom-and-pops

Joe and 22 spend a lot of time at Joe's mother's tailoring shop and his neighborhood barbershop. It's at these small businesses that make up the fabric of NYC, where a lot of the meaningful conversations take place, from Joe reconnecting with his mom to existential questions 22 blurts out to those waiting around in the barbershop. These are the heart and soul places of NYC.

8. The passion of our musicians and artists

Pixar's Soul
Photograph: Courtesy Disney/Pixar

Whether in the subway station or at the Half Note Jazz Club, NYC's musicians and artists are portrayed as talented and passionate—just as they are in real life. Joe's piano flows like a river and the busker's beautiful voice rings out in the subway station. That's how it is. We are constantly surrounded by brilliance in our daily lives here in NYC and Soul puts that on display. 

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