The last film I got to see in theaters before the initial theater shutdown back in March was Pixar’s Onward which hit every mark and instantly became one of my favorite Pixar films. With Pixar’s fantastic reputation of creating films that I absolutely adore, I was extremely excited for their second film on the 2020 slate, Soul. As a musician and a teacher, the trailers for this film instantly hooked me and I knew that I was going into an emotional ride. While it wasn’t as heart wrenching as other Pixar fare such as Coco (2017) or Toy Story 3 (2010), Soul is still a fantastical journey that is well deserving of its place in the Pixar pantheon.
Soul is about a middle-school jazz band teacher named Joe (voiced by Jamie Foxx) who has wished his entire life to be a professional jazz musician. While he enjoys teaching, he can’t help feeling like his life is meaningless and wasted if he can’t find his way on stage. When Joe finally gets his big break and is celebrating on the phone, he falls into a manhole and wakes up to find himself in the metaphysical plane. Not ready to pass on, Joe tries to run away from the Great Beyond and finds himself falling into the Great Before—a place where souls and personalities are shaped before they’re born on Earth. While searching for a way back to his body, he encounters and teams up with an unborn soul named 22 (voiced by Tina Fey) that doesn’t want to be born because they don’t know why all that life is really worth living for.
To begin, Soul‘s story is incredible with its twists and turns and incredible characters that you can easily latch onto. In typical Pixar fashion, the story takes on deep, introspective ideas and blends them with tons of heart and humor that make the film appealing for all audiences. There are several recurring bits and comedic characters that appear throughout the film, but they never feel stale or overused, and they all serve a narrative purpose that drives the story and message home. If you have seen the trailer for Soul, you probably think you know the basic theme of the film. However, the stereotypical “never give up on your dreams” theme that was marketed and is very perceivable in the first act of the film is not the actual message of this film. It’s hard to discuss what the film is actually about without spoiling plot details, but what I will say is it will leave you looking back on your life, where you’re at and where you want to go.
The voice work in Pixar films is always top notch and Soul is no different. Jamie Foxx and Tina Fey both bring nuanced voice work to our two main characters and wonderfully bring their characters to life. All the other voice talent was incredible as well with specific praise for Cora Champommier as Joe’s trombone student Connie, Phylicia Rashad as Joe’s mother Libba, and Rachel House as the Great Beyond’s accountant Terry. All brought different things to their respective characters, but they all gave life to not just themselves but the scenes their characters were in as well.
I’m searching for a negative to give for this movie and I cannot find one with nitpicking specific scenes. The animation is flawlessly beautiful and the story/message is one that every person who has found themselves in a rut (so everybody who made it through 2020) needs to experience. If there was a negative to be had, it would be the way we had to watch it. Disney+ is a fantastic service and quickly becoming one of my favorite streamers out there, but movie experiences with phenomenal visuals and sound design weren’t made to be experienced first on a television. Hopefully, once all theaters reopen, Disney will do a weekend release for this incredible film in order to give us a chance to see it as it was intended. While I did not like the film as much as several other Pixar films, I can say that Soul is yet another Pixar masterpiece, and I can’t wait to sit down and watch it again.