Ambition, dreams, passion, life, and the afterlife are what make up Pixar’s 2020 animated film, Soul. The film focuses on Joe (voiced by Jamie Foxx), a middle-aged part-time middle school music teacher who still hopes to fulfill his lifelong dream of playing professionally in a jazz band. After receiving the news his school has decided to offer Joe a full-time position, he fears he’ll be a teacher for the rest of his life. That is until he gets an offer to audition to join a well-known jazz band.
After nailing the audition and being told to return that night at 7pm to perform live with the band, Joe heads home believing his dream is about to come true. Unfortunately, that’s when he plummets down a manhole and ends up in the hospital on life support.
Joe’s soul travels to another realm where he finds himself on a cosmic escalator headed to the Great Before. Not ready to give up on life and his dream, Joe runs in the opposite direction and falls off the escalator. He ends up in the realm where mentors prepare young souls to travel down to earth and enter a newborn body.
Joe’s mistaken for a new mentor and assigned young soul 22 (voiced by Tina Fey), a cynical, wise-cracking being who has no interest in going to earth and has tested the patience of previous wise mentors such as Abraham Lincoln, Mother Teresa, and Gandhi.
Desperate to get back to his body on earth in time to make the performance, Joe makes a deal with 22 to use her pass, which is supposed to only work for her, to get back to earth so he can slip into his body. She’ll be able to see what life on earth is like and then return to the realm where she feels comfortable. Sounds like a win-win situation, doesn’t it?
However, the trip to earth doesn’t go as planned and 22 ends up in Joe’s body and Joe ends up in a cat’s body. The two souls must work together to try to find a way to get Joe back in his body and 22 back to where she’s grown to believe she belongs.
Cute, colorful, and thought-provoking, Soul is a fun, light-hearted adventure with a solid message. Soul gently reminds the audience not to get so caught up in ambition and chasing a dream that one forgets to enjoy the simple pleasures of living life. In many ways, it’s an animated sampling of ideas and plot devices from live-action films Heaven Can Wait and Mr. Holland’s Opus.
Jamie Foxx does a great job as the voice of Joe, a talented musician who’s spent so much time trying to be a professional jazz piano player that he fails to see just how good a mentor and teacher he really is. Joe’s dream morphs into an obsession and becomes the only thing he cares about. As he struggles to get back into his body and sees 22 interacting with his friends and family, he begins to realize he’s missed out on having deeper and more meaningful relationships due to his sole focus on jazz.
Tina Fey is fantastic as the voice of 22, bringing her to life with a wonderful sarcastic demeanor, wit, and genuine childlike innocence. Some of the funniest scenes in the film are when 22 is on earth stuck in Joe’s body and experiences simple joys for the first time, like eating a slice of delicious New York pizza or getting a haircut. It’s Fey’s timing and satirical delivery that has 22 stealing the film away from Foxx as Joe.
The animation is bright and colorful but not all that original, looking remarkably similar to the design and artwork of Pixar’s 2015 film, Inside Out. (Grante, that makes some sense given the realms both films dwell in.) The film’s score is pitch-perfect, featuring music and songs that help elevate the film to a higher level and give it…soul.
Vibrant and insightful, director Pete Docter’s Soul is a heartwarming, inspirational adventure that reminds the audience not to overlook the little things in life that make living so worthwhile.
MPAA: PG for some language and thematic elements
Running Time: 1 hour 40 minutes
Release Date: December 25, 2020 on Disney+
Supporting Voice Cast: Phylicia Rashad, Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson, Angela Bassett, Daveed Diggs, June Squibb, Donnell Rawlings, Graham Norton, Rachel House, Alice Braga, Richard Ayoade, Wes Studi, Fortune Feimster, and Zenobia Shroff