Pete Docter, the director of Pixar classics such as Monsters, Inc., Inside Out, and my personal favorite, Up, has released his newest fantasy comedy-drama, Soul. This film premieres on Disney+ today, and it follows Joe Gardner (Jamie Foxx), a jazz musician working as a middle school band teacher who finally gets the gig of his life.
However, after Joe falls into a manhole, he finds himself in The Great Before, a dimension where souls receive all of their personalities and quirks before taking on a human body on Earth. Joe enlists the help of another soul, 22 (Tina Fey), to get back to Earth so that he can make it to his gig in time.
Pixar has a reputation for churning out brilliant animated films that manage to appeal to both children and adults. And with this screenplay written by Docter, Mike Jones, and Kemp Powers, lucky viewers now have the opportunity to witness Pixar’s deepest film yet.
Not every animated movie can appeal to adults. Many animated films are designed solely to appease children, such as 2020’s Trolls World Tour and Scoob!, both of which were frustratingly bland movies designed to attack the senses and entertain younger audiences.
However, Soul is the polar opposite; this is a PG animated film designed for adults. The film’s greatest fault may be that it is a bit inaccessible to children, exploring themes of life, death, and passion in ways that only adults with years of living experience can relate to.
This film is a celebration of life gift-wrapped in a colorful animated adventure. It tells the story of a musician who feels unfulfilled in life. He doesn’t enjoy being a middle school teacher and aspires to be more, wanting to perform on stage for people.
Characters this fascinating and complex are rare for PG films. Most Pixar films (sorry, Cars 2) have a wondrous ability to not talk down to their audience. The writers know how to tell a mature story and give their characters depth and growth to understand and appreciate them.
It’s a funny movie as well, with one particularly hilarious joke made for us Knicks fans (if you know what it’s like, I feel your pain). But Docter never resorts to low-hanging fruit for his humor, with ingenious jokes grounded in human emotion and drama.
One of the more pleasant surprises of the film is that much of the runtime doesn’t take place in The Great Beyond. We get many scenes in the real world, with stellar animation and detail down to the ground's texture. Soul is a remarkable-looking film.
Where the film excels the most is how it deals with its subject matter. This is a movie about a man who has lost sight of what’s important in life, and as he’s stuck in The Great Beyond and is facing death, he wants nothing more than a second chance to live his life and make something of himself.
This is a beautiful story, and the character of 22 has a lot that she’s dealing with, as well. She has not been able to find the “spark” that she needs to take on the life of a human, and it leads to some very effective comedy. This is a deeply moving tale of two souls finding their way.
As for my issues, some story threads could have gone to more emotional places, and a section in the final act feels a bit too eccentric for my taste. Despite the minor flaws, I have no shame in saying that Soul made me cry.
This is a movie for children to watch and enjoy for a while and for adults to deeply connect emotionally. There is a scene in the movie where Joe is talking to his mother, and he says a line that struck a chord with me, as he expresses a sentiment I’ve felt for a while.
“I’m afraid that if I died today, my life would have amounted to nothing.”
We’re all dealing with life’s challenges one at a time. And this film is about seeing the beauty of life’s imperfections and moments that make us who we are. If we have a passion, we should chase it. But all we need to be happy is to see everything we have and make the most out of every moment.
Grade: ★★★★✬ [9/10, A]
Rating: PG for thematic elements and some language