Best Music/Score

Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross and Jon Batiste

“That guy was lost in the music. He was in it, and he took the rest of us with him.”

To hear Joe Gardner (voiced by Jamie Foxx), the middle-school band teacher and piano player at the heart of Pixar’s Soul, explain what first enraptured him about jazz music is to hear an ambitious thesis statement about what the music in this animated film sets out to do. And from that first scene, when Joe takes to his classroom piano, it’s clear Soul’s compositions are more than up to the task. 

Pete Docter’s film may use jazz as a metaphor for its literal meditation on soul-searching, but the score — composed by Jon Batiste, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross — nimbly shuttles between two complementary sensibilities. Tasked with bringing to life a bustling jazz scene, Batiste’s earthbound tracks give Soul the very spark Joe is constantly searching for. Meanwhile, echoing the shimmering translucence of the film’s blue-hued souls, Reznor and Ross crafted an utterly entrancing electronic musical soundscape that captures the essence of The Great Beyond. In contrast to Batiste’s grounded jazz pieces, including solos for Joe and jam sessions for the Dorothea Williams Quartet — musical moments that underscore the kinetic spontaneity that jazz thrives on — Reznor and Ross’ compositions traffic in contradictions, finding harmonies in white noise, sonically sketching a quiet vastness that feels infinite.

Together, Batiste, Reznor and Ross didn’t just enliven Docter’s imaginative premise. They made us recognize and yearn for what Joe meant: Theirs is music that whisks us off to a crisp fall day in Brooklyn as easily as it transports us to an ethereal world. Soulful music, in a way, that begs you to get lost in it.

— Manuel Betancourt