The 400-Word Review: Soul
By Sean Collier
January 2, 2021
As if prior films had left any doubt, Pixar is not limited by the bounds of family-friendly animation.
This isn’t news; through the likes of “WALL-E” and “Inside Out,” we’ve seen that the hitmakers are as versed at exploring resonant thematic territory as they are at generating adorable characters. In “Soul,” however, the studio tackles existentialism and the wandering search for purpose as deftly as any filmmakers, in any genre, could.
Also, “Soul” is way funnier than your average movie about the intrinsic meaning of life.
Our protagonist is Joe Gardner (Jamie Foxx), a middle-school music teacher with dreams of jazz stardom. He finally lands a breakthrough gig, but almost immediately finds himself in the afterlife, having tumbled down an open manhole. Unwilling to drift into the light at the moment of his corporeal success, he fights his way off the escalator to eternity and winds up in the cloudy realm where souls are born.
This spot — the Great Before, they call it — is run by impressionistic squiggle-creatures, all named Jerry, who mistake Joe for a new hire set to help budding souls find themselves before they’re sent to Earth. He’s paired with 22 (Tina Fey), a contentious soul looking to avoid being born at all; she thinks life looks like a hassle, and has shaken off mentors including Abraham Lincoln and Mother Theresa with pure obstinance.
Joe hopes that he can game the system and head to Earth in 22’s place. They’ll have to endure a very literal cosmic journey to get there, though. I’m pleased to report that the path is unexpected at every turn, often hilariously so.
I have a bad habit of referring to Pixar as a faceless monolith — to be fair, this is a common error — when it is essential to note that Pete Docter is emerging as the connective tissue between the studio’s most ambitious films. “Soul” is his fourth directorial effort, after “Monsters, Inc.,” “Up” and “Inside Out.” He also co-wrote “Soul,” alongside Mike Jones and Kemp Powers.
Docter is also Pixar’s chief creative officer; in many ways, “Soul” feels like something of a culmination of his artistic exploration. Its visual language is nuanced and lovely — particularly in character design — and its approach to the massive questions it poses is deft and moving. “Soul” argues for a beautiful joie de vivre, and lyrically practices what it preaches.
My Rating: 9/10
“Soul” is streaming now on Disney+.