Director: Pete Docter
Screenwriter: Pete Docter, Kemp Powers and Mike Jones
Animoators: Bobby Podesta, Jude Brownbill and MontaQue Ruffin
Cast: Jamie Foxx, Tina Fey, Graham Norton, Rachel House, Alice Braga, Richard Ayoade, Phylicia Rashad, Donnel Rawlings, Questlove and Angela Bassett.
Soul is Disney and Pixar animated film following middle school band teacher, Joe Gardner who is voiced by Jamie Foxx. Knowing Jamie Foxx was the star of this film already told me it was going to be great. Foxx has been a part of some of the best and my most favorite films, so I anticipated a highly enjoyable movie. The film was also directed by Pete Docter who also directed Pixar animated features Up and Inside Out which are two (in my opinion) of the most heart wrenching, yet warming animated films. And that’s that those films came out when I might have already been too old to be affected by them. Soul brings on similar emotions while also teaching great lessons to its young viewers. Majority of the films I saw growing up had the same, maybe overused message – “follow your dreams”. Not a bad lesson, but one that has been taught too many times. Soul shows a different perspective on that message and shares one that is a bit more realistic and comforting to its audience.
Although Joe works as band teacher, his real dream is to play piano for a jazz band full time. At the beginning of the film, Joe receives a full time position as the middle school band teacher which Joe doesn’t seem too excited for. Joe heads to his mother’s (voiced by Phylicia Rashad) tailoring shop to let her know the news. She is elated. She hasn’t been a fan of Joe working part time in order to pick up piano gigs. She knows this job will be bring steady income which, like most mothers, she wants for her son. As he’s headed out, he receives a call from an old student, Curly, voiced by Questlove, offering Joe a chance to play with Dorothea Williams, voiced by the ethereal Angela Bassett, a famous jazz saxophone player. Of course jumping at the opportunity, he heads to the club, plays for Dorothea and lands the job.
Just as everything seems to be looking up for Joe, as he’s walking home, too busy being excited about landing the gig and having his life “finally begin”, he falls though a manhole. He wakes up in what we learn to be “the great beyond”. He’s placed on a walkway heading towards “the light”. He begins to understand what’s happening and runs in the opposite direction. This is when he ends up in the “the great before”. It is explained that this is where bodies and souls meet, create their personality, find their spark and then are sent out to the world. Joe being desperate to get back to his life to play his biggest gig yet, he impersonates another person and is paired up with a soul named/numbered 22. It becomes apparent that this is a troubled soul that has no interest in going to Earth and has managed to avoid it all this time. After Joe explains that he’s already alive and needs to get back to earth, Joe and 22 create a plan so Joe can return to his life and 22 can stay in the “great before”.
I love the creative way the film portrays the before and after life as well as how each of us become individuals. For a child’s film that basically kills off the main character, it found a way to have the movie remain light and easy. Pixar, of course also didn’t shy away from witty one liners mostly given by 22, voiced by the hilarious Tina Fey. When Joe is asking why a soul has the voice of a middle aged white women, 22 responds with “I just chose the one that annoys people the most”. Another line I liked happens when several souls are shown to be crushed by a wall that falls down. Joe immediately gets concerned, but then watches the souls just crawl out from under the wall unharmed and 22 explains that “souls can’t be crush here, that’s what life on Earth is for”.
As Joe and 22 are trying to get to Earth without 22 having their “spark”, they meet up with Moonwind, voiced by Graham Norton, who is still alive on Earth, but is able to astral project to the great before. Moonwind shows Joe the “lost souls” that are stuck in the great before. These are souls that have become too obsessed with a certain idea that they’ve disconnected from life. The souls have become dark and angry and are shown wandering through the great before alone.
Moonwind helps Joe and 22 get to Earth, but not in the way they planned. Joe is stuck in the body of a cat and 22 in Joe’s body. They then embark in all the regular shenanigans that are in all other Disney or Pixar movies. As 22 is going through her first day on Earth, the audience watches them begin to fall in love with it. We watch them be entranced as they watch a man on the subway sing and play guitar, as they watch the sky and leaves fall from the tree or try pizza for the first time. While Joe is focused on getting back to his body and playing with Dorothea, 22 is learning about the life around him.
Both Joe and 22 end up back in the great before after 22 tried to run away from Joe, so they could find their purpose, which they have never been able to do before as a soul. When they arrive back in the great beyond, it shows that 22 did find their purpose, but doesn’t know what it is or how. Joe is furious because he thinks the purpose 22 found was Joe’s purpose to play jazz music. He steals 22’s Earth pass and travels back to his body. 22 is shown defeated and retreats back to a hidden place in the great before.
Joe returns to Earth and gets to play with Dorothea’s band. After the gig, he begins to explain to Dorothea that he thought he would feel different and that his life was going to be changed. This scene stood out the most to me when watching the film for the first time. Dorothea tells Joe a story of a fish who tells another fish that he wants to be in the ocean, to where the other fish replies “you’re already in the ocean”. The first fish replies that “this is water, I want to be in the ocean”. She ends the story, walks away and leaves Joe to decode that story on his own. Oh to have Angela Bassett teach me the meaning of life – one can only dream…or just re-watch this scene over and over again.
Joe returns home, pondering on his life and begins to realize all that he’s missed what’s around him while being busy obsessing over jazz music. He looks back on his students, his parents and the beauty of the world around him. From what I understood about Dorothea’s story is that the fish was too busy trying to reach “the ocean” that he never realized he was already there.
Joe finds his way back to the great before to help 22. This is where he learns that souls finding their “spark” doesn’t mean they find their purpose. He reflects on how 22 suggested that sky watching or walking could be their purpose, but Joe told them that was just living. That was really the whole point all along. The film shares the message that our lives are not based on what our purpose is, but on just living it and appreciating all it has to offer. Although the target audience of this film is children, I believe that it’s also a great message for young adults to be reminded of. As a 22 year old, I’m constantly questioning what my purpose is and if my life is meaningful at all if I’m not doing great things, but this isn’t the case and I’m glad young children are learning this now instead of as a stressed and confused adult.
Soul can be streamed on Disney+.
Soul is an Oscar nominated film. It has been nominated for Best Animated Feature, Best Original Score and Best Sound.
Best Animated Feature Film
Best Original Score
Best Animated Film
Best Original Score