Pixar’s at it again with its newest film, Soul, a story that ventures to answer the question many of us have been asking all our lives. What is my purpose in life? Why do I exist? What comes after?
New York middle-school band teacher Joe Gardner (Jamie Foxx) has just gotten the biggest break in his life; a chance to play with jazz musician Dorothea Williams and her quartet. And then he dies. No really, Joe falls into an open manhole and dies just five minutes into the movie before the opening credits have even rolled.
Joe’s soul is sent to the Great Beyond, an escalator-like walkway heading toward a white light. Joe of course, is not ready to die and flees, falling off the walkway into a brightly colored daycare for brand new souls called the Great Before (rebranded You Seminar) where souls get their personalities before coming to earth.
Joe is (luckily) mistaken for a soul mentor and assigned soul number 22 (Tina Fey), an adorable green ghostly blip that has been in the Great Before for thousands of years unable to find her “spark” that makes souls ready for life on Earth. Joe spends a chunk of the movie trying to help the cynical 22 get her Earth pass as an instant ticket back to his body but gets to see what life can really be.
The movie itself is amazingly real. The realms of the Great Beyond and You Seminar is so colorful and bright, even the darkness of the Great Beyond seems to pop. But then there are the scenes of New York that are just a hair away from being real. From the textures, to the lighting, everything feels like a real scene despite characters cartoony proportions. There is even an actual sheen of sweat on musicians later in the movie.
The characters themselves are made just as real with sharp lines from a witty script, going from serious to comedic in the span of a few minutes. Like Joe asking about 22’s “middle aged white woman” voice she chose just for the sake of being annoying or the spirit world’s caretaker Jerrys immense but slightly condescending patience with resident soul/bean counter Terry. To top it off is the jazz — the very genre that has been called the music of life.
Is it as gut punching as say Inside Out or Up? Not really, but there are moments where you do feel for the characters. You want to see Joe succeed at his gig, you want to see where 22 will get her spark, you want to see what shenanigans will be had along the way. You want to see the payoff, and the film delivers.
Soul is definitely a movie more for adults, but with plenty of colorful scenes that kids would like to see. Soul is a questioning film and doesn’t necessarily have that “chase your dreams” feel that most kids’ films have. It does drive home the idea of the obsession, chasing something that can consume you — and does to some people in the movie — and cause you to lose sight of what is important in life; family, friends, the feeling of just simply living. Not exactly kid concepts.
Soul’s message is not easy, but then again, when is life? It asks you what you are going to do with the gift of life you have been given. How will you live it?