Sometimes, our most rewarding opponents are ourselves. Pixar exemplifies this, with its early successes through heartfelt masterpieces like “Toy Story” and “Finding Nemo.” The magic of Pixar has always been its ability to captivate audiences, young and old, with spectacular animation and tell some of the most human stories in the most unusual settings, as seen in “WALL-E” and “Monsters, Inc.” Having set the bar so high, it was natural that some films would disappoint, as seen with “Inside Out” and “The Good Dinosaur,” but 2020 saw the release of some of the finest Pixar has to offer since “Coco,” with “Onward” and most recently “Soul.”
“Soul” delivers one of Pixar’s most human, existential and touching stories to date, by taking a step back from the grandeur and the lavish settings we’ve come to expect from Pixar in favor of a blend of the real world and the mysterious before and after life. Jamie Foxx stars as Joe Gardner, a middle-aged middle school band teacher who, while happy, always wanted more from life.
As a child, he was introduced to jazz by his father, and ever since, believed that his one true purpose in life was to play piano alongside some of the greatest jazz musicians. Unfortunately for our hero Joe, he never got his chance and has been waiting for something to turn up, and this is where Joe’s story really begins.
After a near death experience sends Joe to the afterlife, he realizes soul would enter a void, thereby ending his existence. To avoid this, he breaks his way through to the area where future souls would be assigned to humans on Earth in hopes to return back to real life later.
Here future souls are paired up with mentors, previous humans who have passed on and led inspiring lives, whose jobs are to inspire the new souls to find a passion to live fulfilling lives on Earth. Joe is assigned to the quirky and difficult to inspire soul, only referenced as “#22,” voiced by Tina Fey, and his adventure takes him between both worlds, taking us as an audience through a beautifully animated and thought-provoking journey.
The afterlife, as portrayed in the movie is simply a dark void, and the place where souls are created, is more of a nursery for souls. “Soul” took a while for me to fully appreciate. My initial reaction was mixed, but the more I thought about it, the better the movie seemed. There is merit to showing that there may not be much for souls before and after life, and it drives home the message of the movie.
Life is a blessing, and what we make of it while on Earth is up to us. The best opportunity anyone can take on Earth is appreciate the world around us, and while it’s difficult during a global pandemic, it remains necessary to spare a moment to take it in. “Soul” excels in showing us this with Joe’s and 22’s journey. I have yet to see a movie tackle a heavy theme as masterfully as “Soul.” At the cost of a movie ticket, you can catch “Soul” on Disney+ for a whole month, and it would be a shame to miss one of the worst year’s best films.