Soul Review: Beautifully Animated in its Meaningful Message

“Life is full of possibilities. You just need to know where to look.”

-Joe Gardner (Jamie Foxx)

Image Courtesy of Walt Disney Pictures (Screenshot from SOUL)

What is our purpose? What drives us to continue to live and shapes our personalities and skills in life? The reason for our existence is a question often pondered but never understood. Still, the internationally recognized Pixar takes a creative spin on life's greatest questions and mysteries. Soul explores human consciousness, the process of joining life on Earth, and the movement to the Great Beyond through Joe Gardner: a middle school band teacher and hopeful wannabe jazz musician and his journey to reunite his physical form with his soul after falling in a manhole.

To avoid joining the Great Beyond before he can get his big break, the film's interpretation of the afterlife before he can return to Earth, Joe enters the Great Before and meets a companion that changes his narrow-minded perspective of life. Directed by Pete Docter, known for directing several other iconic Pixar films such as Monsters, Inc (2001), Up (2009), and Inside Out (2015), Soul leaves behind several important messages that are sure to make you re-evaluate how you have been going about your everyday life especially during a time like this where we are limited to outside interactions and communication. Overall, the story neatly and creatively tackles this organic concept of our ephemeral time of existence in what appears to be an eternal world.

Joe Gardner dreams of becoming a successful jazz musician after his father exposed him to the free, improvisational art form as a child. Despite his mother's warning words and push to accept a full-time job as a music teacher for stability, Joe auditions as a pianist for Dorthea Williams, a well-known, respected saxophonist and musician, and receives her approval to perform in her show. In his excited state, his brief loss of awareness results in his "death," leaving behind his body on Earth and sending his soul to the Great Beyond. Desperate to return for his long-awaited show, Joe finds himself in the Great Before, the place where young souls are given personalities and "sparks" to shape each soul before being born on Earth. Mistaken to be an instructor for the young souls, Joe is assigned to 22, a soul who has been assigned to many remarkable figures such Mother Teresa, Carl Jung, and Abraham Lincoln but never found her spark to be sent to Earth. After unsuccessful attempts to help 22 find her spark, the two come to an agreement: Joe will take 22's badge to go to Earth while 22 can return to her presence in the Great Before.

Image Courtesy of Walt Disney Pictures (Screenshot from SOUL)

Joe and 22 enter "the zone," a hazy area between full consciousness and a dream-like state where those passionate about their craft can briefly enter, to find Moonwind, a sign spinner on Earth but a spiritual being in "the zone" who helps lost souls return to their stable states. However, a mishap causes Joe to bring 22 with him to Earth accidentally, and she enters his comatose physical body while Joe enters the body of a nearby therapy cat. The two must find a way to restore Joe to his body and send 22 back to the Great Beyond, but 22's experiences on Earth as Joe changes both their perspectives on what it means to fully live life to the fullest and enjoy the little things that we often overlook.

Many Pixar films played a significant role in my child, creating role models that I and others could enjoy through the years and continue to learn from. For me, as a high school junior, Soul presents ideas that are relatable and emphasizes the importance of having an open mind and keeping the possibilities open. However, while the concept was executed in a way that is eye-catching and enjoyable for all ages, the film's meaningful depth may be overlooked by younger audiences who may not fully understand its looming concepts.

Image Courtesy of Walt Disney Pictures (Screenshot from SOUL)

Despite some of its more profound, less concrete themes, Soul is beautifully animated with the real world presented in a vibrant but realistic fashion, and the world of the souls done in a dream-like presentation with soft shades of pink, violet, and blues that are sure to impress viewers of all ages. Furthermore, the representation in the film, with Joe Gardner being the first African American protagonist, was a very welcome decision, especially since the film does a beautiful job of connecting with viewers and creating bonds with its audience.

Image Courtesy of Walt Disney Pictures (Screenshot from SOUL)

With its aesthetically enchanting visual storytelling and meaningful message, Soul presents a story of growth and acceptance while also taking the abstract concept of life and death and sculpting it into something tangible. Whether you watch it alone or with family and friends, the film is sure to leave a lasting mark on your outlook on your own life while providing something more to ponder.

What is it that makes you...YOU? Pixar Animation Studios’ all-new feature film “Soul” introduces Joe Gardner (voice of Jamie Foxx) – a middle-school band teacher who gets the chance of a lifetime to play at the best jazz club in town. 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 (voice of Tina Fey), who has never understood the appeal of the human experience. 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. Directed by Academy Award® winner Pete Docter (“Inside Out,” “Up”), co-directed by Kemp Powers (“One Night in Miami”) and produced by Academy Award nominee Dana Murray, p.g.a. (Pixar short “Lou”), Disney and Pixar’s “Soul” will be available exclusively on Disney+ (where Disney+ is available) beginning Dec. 25, 2020.

SOUL is Available on Disney+ Now