Joe Gardner (voice of Jamie Foxx) is a middle-school band teacher whose life hasn’t quite gone the way he expected. His true passion is jazz — and he’s good. But when he travels to another realm to help someone find their passion, he soon discovers what it means to have soul.
Pixar isn’t highly praised by virtually everybody for no reason. They craft some of the most emotional journeys for families to go on and each movie they release comes packed with a deep-cutting message, lovable and greatly developed characters, plus some truly terrific humor sprinkled throughout.
Peter Docter’s Soul is not the first Pixar movie to be released this year, either. Back in March, we were treated with Onward, which was a story about two elf kids who obtain a magical staff that will give them a chance to reunite with their deceased father who they never met for one day.
And although it wasn’t as good as other outings from the studio, it still proved to be an emotionally strong story that tugged on viewers’ heartstrings. It’s astounding how an animation studio has managed to make a plethora of films that speak to both children and adults on such a deep and powerful level, and really, they haven’t had any missteps so far. I’m beyond thrilled to report that Soul is yet another success from the studio. In fact, it may be one of their greatest offerings ever.
For the first little while, Soul comes across as a funny and endearing animated comedy that is sure to put a smile on your face. But with each passing scene, the movie reveals its deep and darker side that isn’t afraid to get serious. This movie touches upon death primarily, and what happens to your soul when you die. It’s rare to see an animated movie tackle such intense themes, but Soul tackles it with immense skill and heart.
Joe Gardner is an excellent piano and jazz player as well as a really good band teacher at school. Music is the only thing that brings him true happiness. Whenever he is playing a song, he finds extreme comfort in it. One day, he lands a gig as a piano player for a singer known as Dorothea Williams (voice of Angela Bassett), who he greatly admires.
Things are finally starting to look up for Joe and his music career – until he falls down a manhole. His soul is transported to a place known as the Great Before, a place where souls are prepared to go live their life on Earth. But Joe quickly finds out that going back down to Earth is not as simple as simply hopping down a hole that transports a lot of other souls back down there. He must find his spark if he wants to live his life on Earth again. What follows is a beautiful and emotionally riveting story that will enthrall both kids and grown-ups all around the world.
It’s fascinating how well-written Soul is too. It balances comedy and drama so wonderfully and never has a dull moment anywhere throughout. It’s one-hundred-and-six-minutes of amazing entertainment that will make you cry or at the very least be on the brink of tears once you see where the story is ultimately heading. Once I got a fairly good grip of where Docter was taking Joe’s story, I found it hard to fight back tears. It speaks to the human inside all of us.
All of the voice acting is top-notch as well. Jamie Foxx delivers a lively and charismatic vocal performance as Joe Gardner, who serves as an incredibly likable and interesting protagonist throughout this story. In addition, Tina Fey manages to delight yet again with her voice role as 22, a soul that gets trapped in the Great Before with Joe. But 22 isn’t too keen on living her life on Earth. In fact, she makes it abundantly clear that she does not want to live on Earth no matter what.
Together, Joe and 22 have an amazing journey that really opens up your eyes, and it really opens up their eyes too. While watching Soul, it’s difficult to not see yourself in at least one of the characters. This is a touching story of life, death, and finding out who you really are. I haven’t gotten this emotionally wrapped-up in a movie in quite some time. 2020 has been a weird and different year for movies, to say the least, but every once in a while, a movie like Soul comes along to remind us of why we love movies in the first place.
Overall Grade: A+
MPAA Rating: PG for thematic elements and some language
Directed by: Pete Docter
Distributed by: Disney+
Release Date: December 25, 2020
Running Time: 106 minutes