REVIEW: Disney/Pixar’s ‘Soul’

“You can’t crush a soul here.  That’s what life on Earth is for.”  –Soul 22

© Disney | Pixar

Soul, now streaming on Disney+, follows a middle-aged middle school band teacher named Joe Gardner (Jamie Foxx) through what becomes the most eventful day of his life…and beyond.  Within hours of being offered a permanent position that will give him the financial stability his mother Libba (Phylicia Rashad) prioritizes, Joe is also offered the chance to make his dreams of becoming a professional jazz musician come true.

Exultant at the prospect of overcoming a lifetime of perceived failure, Joe accidentally missteps himself into the Great Before, where new souls are prepped and programmed to begin life on Earth.  Joe’s determination to get back to his body and fulfill his jazz ambitions finds him forced to team up with soul 22 (Tina Fey) — a disaffected long-time inhabitant of the Great Before, whose resistance to being born has outlasted any number of famous mentors.

Pixar Soul Concept Art ©Disney/Pixar

Can one soul persuade another that life is worth living when their own life is nothing but a testament to broken dreams and deferred gratification?  In the best tradition of buddy flicks, Joe and 22 embark on a madcap journey that spans both New York and the Great Before to find out.

© 2020 Disney/Pixar

If viewers are unfamiliar with jazz music, they can hardly have a better introduction than Soul.  With New York represented by Grammy nominee Jon Batiste’s original compositions and the Great Beyond exhibiting the music of Academy Award winners Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, the soundtrack is as much a character in the film as all the others.

The scenes where Joe performs and enters his “zone” feel meticulously done down to the tendons in his hands (modeled after video of Batiste.)  The same level of detail has obviously been expended as well in their desire to authentically represent aspects of the Black experience for Joe.

Much has been said about the Black Cultural Trust the filmmakers gathered to make sure their depiction was as truthful and sensitive as possible, and it shines through in ways both outstanding and subtle, from Joe’s revelatory trip to the neighborhood barbershop for a fade to his throwaway line about his difficulties hailing a cab.  For a studio not previously known for its ethnically diverse storytelling, their first film with a Black lead is a respectful one of which they can be proud.

©2020 Disney/Pixar 

Tina Fey makes 22 a fun foil for Joe, sarcastic and cynical to his earnest passions.  As would be expected from someone with her acting and comedic chops, she has no problem keeping the reluctant soul just on the right side of annoying, while occasionally letting her insecure core peek out of her self-styled irritating shell.  In contrast, Foxx fully inhabits Joe in a real way that grounds the film and gives impact to his reconnections with his family and friends.

SOUL – Concept Art by Daniel López Muñoz. © 2020 Disney/Pixar. All Rights Reserved.

As the latest offering from director (and Pixar Chief Creative Officer) Pete Docter, Soul shows some of his trademarks seen in his other films like Up and especially Soul‘s closest soul-sister, Inside Out — a thoughtfulness and gentle sense of inquiry as to how people deal with issues of loss and fear. 

If there’s one weakness that sometimes shows up in some of his movies as well, it’s an abruptly-placed action sequence towards the end of the story that feels a little different in tone and forced in the narrative.  Here, it is at least based on some foundation laid earlier, so if the dogs flying bi-planes in Up didn’t bother you, this scene surely won’t either.

SOUL – Concept Art by Dave Strick. © 2020 Disney/Pixar. All Rights Reserved.

Ultimately, Soul is a story about how there are as many ways to experience and appreciate life as there are souls to live it, and how all those ways can be equally valid.

In our current times when so many people have been forced to put their work and dreams on hold, it’s a comfort to feel that grand accomplishments aren’t the only measure of a life’s success — that sometimes it’s the smallest moment or sensation or connection that can invest life with meaning.  There is a quiet beauty and music to that notion, just as there is to Soul.

© Disney | Pixar

Soul is presented by Disney/Pixar. Rated PG. Running time: 100 min.  It stars Jamie Foxx, Tina Fey, Graham Norton, Rachel House, Alice Braga, Richard Ayoade, and Phylicia Rashad.

Directed by Academy Award® winner Pete Docter (“Inside Out,” “Up”), co-directed by Kemp Powers (“One Night in Miami”) and produced by Academy Award nominee Dana Murray, p.g.a. (Pixar short “Lou”).

Soul is currently streaming exclusively on Disney+.

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Jeanine resides in Southern California, pursuing the sort of lifestyle that makes her the envy of every 11-year-old she meets. She has been to every Disney theme park in the world and while she finds Tokyo DisneySea the Fairest Of Them All, Disneyland is her Home Park... and there is no place like home.

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One Reply to “REVIEW: Disney/Pixar’s ‘Soul’”

  1. Well I was hoping to get more than an overview because I think this movie is going to be pretty polarizing. I was actually shocked at how “adult” the content was and I couldn’t imagine it holding kids interest but my 6 year old niece seems to love it. I on the other hand didn’t. I don’t care for jazz and while I was interested to see how they were going to pull this topic off, I was a little bored. It lacked a lot of the usual adult humor thrown in that we’re used to from Pixar. It’s like they know adults are going to have to sit through their movies time and time again so the added adult jokes are more than welcome. I missed those here. All in all it was a little too deep if you ask me. I felt like the entire thing was along the lines of the “abstract thought” part of Inside Out, which I thought that movie was brilliant and was hoping for something similar because that was SO well done. Thought provoking and still hilariously entertaining for such a deep subject. This one missed the mark for me.