Movie Review: Soul

A Pixar film gives viewers high expectations — and with films such as Inside Out, Up, and Coco under their belt, why not? Soul, its latest, is one of the best animated films of the year. Because of the ongoing pandemic, Soul will be released on Disney+ on December 25 instead of in theaters. 

Joe (Oscar-winner Jamie Foxx) has one passion, jazz. He dreams of playing with a band, permitting him to earn a living doing what he loves. When the opportunity presents to audition for respected jazz musician Dorothea Williams (Angela Bassett), Joe makes a strong impression. But a few hours before his dream becomes reality, he’s walking around so distracted, he falls through a sewer opening. Joe wakes up in a different realm, going toward the final step: death. 

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Quickly realizing his destination, Joe refuses to go towards the light by desperately heading in the opposite direction. Before we know it, Joe lands in the “Great Before” where he’s assigned to mentor soul 22 (Tina Fey), who’s known to be difficult. In the “Great Before,” the opposite of the “Afterlife,” souls acquire their personalities, the last step being finding the “spark” that will complete them before they’re sent to Earth to inhabit a body. Upon meeting Joe, 22 is drawn to his determination to stay alive, creating a sense of curiosity to learn why that is. From here forward, the two embark on an unforgettable journey.

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After a second viewing, I’ve concluded this movie can be a companion to Inside Out, the perfect double feature. (Pete Docter, who directed Inside Out, co-directs Soul with Kemp Powers. The two also co-wrote Soul with Mike Jones.) Where Inside Out focuses on the effects emotions have on our experiences, creating memories, and the process of growing up, Soul takes an insightful look at personalities and their influence on our decision-making, passions, motives, and our notion of life. It forces the viewers to pay attention to their respective individual experiences, reminding us that it’s fine to pause for a minute in our rushed daily lives to look around, appreciating everything around us. The second and third acts further enhance this message. I won’t reveal any specifics, but the approach is effective. There’s a barbershop scene that felt refreshing on various levels, highlighting the need for conversation and socializing with others. 

The animation in Soul is gorgeous, particularly when the film is the outer realm where we see abstract greater beings in charge of assigning souls their personalities. The souls themselves are beautifully drawn, with an aquamarine color giving off a sense of tranquility. I also loved the “lost souls” realm, particularly the water-like sand. Because the film explores philosophical themes, some viewers may feel uncomfortable, but it would be intriguing to ask a child their interpretation of this film. I think it works for both kids and adults.

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The score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, with jazz songs by Jon Batiste, is without a doubt one of the best of this year. There are scenes where Joe is playing the piano and gets in the zone that so many creative people can relate to, thanks to this score. 

In spite of all that, I have conflicting thoughts about Soul, since I don’t consider it top-tier Pixar like Inside Out. Yet its message has stayed with me. I’m more aware of my senses and remind myself of little things throughout the day, from savoring the taste and smell of coffee in the morning to feeling the breeze hit my face while admiring the scenery. 

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Overall, Soul is another strong entry into Pixar’s filmography, delivering a timely message during a pandemic. Its somewhat predictable story holds it back from my top tier of Pixar films, but with its strong message and memorable score, it’s executed beautifully.