A lot of us aren’t where we always thought we would be, and that’s okay. Sometimes, we’re exactly where we need to be. That’s what Disney Pixar’s latest animated film Soul is here to teach us and with the pandemic getting worse and the world feeling like it’s on fire, it’s just the message of hope and optimism that we need right now.
Pixar Animation Studios’ all-new feature film Soul asks viewers, and its characters, a question: What makes you, YOU? Co-directed by Academy Award winner Pete Docter and Kemp Powers and co-written by Docter, Powers, and Mike Jones, Soul stars the voice acting talents of Jamie Foxx, Tina Fey, Graham Norton, Alice Braga, Richard Ayoade, Phylicia Rashad, and Angela Bassett. The film is centered on the life of Joe Gardner (Jamie Foxx). A middle-school band teacher, Joe knows that he was born to play jazz. His spark, his purpose, is music, and for him, that means playing in front of an audience and not being a teacher. One day, he gets the chance of a lifetime to play at the best jazz club in town and play with one of his favorite musicians.
But one small misstep takes him from the streets of New York City to The Great Before—a fantastical place where new souls get their personalities, quirks, and interests before they go to Earth. Determined to return to his life, Joe teams up with a precocious soul, 22 (Tina Fey), who has never understood the appeal of the human experience. The two are an odd couple. 22 doesn’t want to be born and wants to remain in The Great Before but Joe wants to live again. More specifically, he wants to fulfill the purpose he thinks he was put on Earth to do. This dynamic creates a natural comedic tension that exists to do more than make you laugh. As Joe desperately tries to show 22 what’s great about living, he may just discover the answers to some of life’s most important questions.
While the film offers up the usual Pixar plot points—cute anime companion, a twist that you kind of see coming, and a familial moment that brings tears—it executes those points to perfection and in a way unique from other animated films. Each one of those noted Pixar tropes serves a larger narrative purpose and pulls on your heartstrings with intent. Additionally, as expected, Soul is beautifully animated.
Every character is visually stunning and its clear love was put into their designs. From their hair to their body types and clothing, the vibrancy of New York City and the people within it are on full display. One of the fears with Soul that many pop culture critics had with its announcement was that it would be a film with a Black lead that is yet again detached from their identity. In Soul’s case, the trailer makes it seem like Joe is a blue soul for the majority of the film. Thankfully that isn’t the case. Instead, we see elements of Joe’s life that sing, from the barbershop to the Jazz club.
Soul is a film that speaks to our anxieties about our purpose in life—whether or not we’ve succeeded in life or if we’ve ever even lived. It asks us to cast away our preconceived notions and take stock of the relationships and people we’ve touched through our lives. As a film, Soul is magical at a time when it can feel like the world is moving forward but you’re stuck at a stand-still. Because this crushing feeling of needing to push ourselves harder to maintain societal standards is heightened by the pandemic, Soul hits hard.
This animated film offers a strong connection to its viewers by forcing us to answer tough questions. Who are you when you’re detached from all the things you define yourself by? That’s been a question that many of us have had to face as the world we knew was changed by COVID-19. For some of us, our passions involve other people, and in those moments, the isolation of being at home can feel multiplied. While Soul was supposed to come out earlier this year, it’s a perfect film to end the year on.
It’s hard to find purpose and hope right now, or at least it has been for me. Soul offers viewers a note. Sometimes, we just have to live even if we’re scared to or if we’re too worried about life not being what we imagined. Overall, yes, Soul offers humor. But it also offers a heart-filled exploration of life, living, and our impact that sometimes we forget to realize. Right now, you may not be where you planned to be, and that is okay because it may be where you need to be.
Disney and Pixar’s Soul is available exclusively on Disney+ on December 25, 2020.
- Rating - 9/109/10
Soul offers viewers a note, that sometimes we don’t need to search for it and other times, the concept is a “purpose” is what can cause us to fall into anxiety. Sometimes, we just have to live even if we’re scared to or if we’re too worried about life not being what we imagined. Overall, Soul offers humor, yes. But it also offers a heart-filled exploration of life, living, and our impact that sometimes we forget to realize. You may not be where you planned to be right now, and that is okay. It may be where you need to be.
Kate is co-founder, EIC, and CCO of BWT. She’s also a Certified Rotten Tomatoes Critic, host, and creator of our flagship podcast, But Why Tho? and Did You Have To?. She also manages all PR relationships for comics, manga, film, TV, and anime. She has an MA in Cultural Anthropology and Religious Studies focusing on how pop culture impacts society.