Joe is a down on his luck musician who teaches at a middle school band and losing his passion for music and feeling unfulfilled. After getting an offer to play in a Jazz Club band from Dorothea Williams, he meets an unfortunate fate. Refusing to go to “The Great Beyond” after getting his big break, he escapes to “The Great Before,” where he’s he’s stuck as a mentor to 22, a soul that needs help getting a spark, the final requirement to get a pass to Earth and getting a life, but refuses to begin wanting to live. Joe seeks 22’s Earth Badge to get back to Earth and continue living and helps 22 find that spark.
Full Thoughts and Reactions after watching Soul
Disney’s past few animated films left me disappointed with Frozen 2, Toy Story 4, and Onward’s opening, to mention a few. These films all seemed to play it safe and go in a direction that these movies should not have gone. Pixar’s Soul was a complete departure from Disney’s recent offerings. Going in a more mature approach, Soul follows more of the theme of other Pixar films like Inside Out and Up (for the most part) and more of an internal struggle film than fighting an external villain or antagonist.
The movie’s voice cast is excellent and maybe even some of the best voice acting I heard in a while in a movie. Jamie Foxx voices Joe Gardner, a man who dreams about being a career Jazz Musician but instead teaches music at a local Middle School. He wants to pursue his passion for Jazz since his dad takes him to a Jazz Club and found his spark and purpose when he was a kid. With Joe, one could quickly get the feeling of him not being a “has been” but more of a “never was.” It’s a struggle that can be relatable to another who just never got the break that anyone wishes they had or felt that they deserved. Joe never squanders opportunity; he just never got the chance he wanted. Of course, the break comes for Joe, and he meets an unfortunate accident causing him to miss his break in life. It’s a relatable conflict, and Jamie Foxx voices Joe’s journey and mood well throughout the film.
22 voiced by Tina Fey. 22 is a cynical soul at the “Great Before” for many years. 22 is nearly ready to go to Earth but is missing a “spark” to complete her earth pass badge, allowing her to life to start. 22 doesn’t see a point in living and chooses to remain in “The Great Before,” outlasting and frustrating many mentors before her like Carl Jung, Abraham Lincoln, and Mother Theresa. It’s a great character, and Tina Fey voices the troublemaking, and conflicting Soul, wondering why it is worth feeling and living very convincing and enjoyable.
Joe reluctancy becomes 22’s mentor as he desperately wants to get back into his body and avoid going to the great beyond. Trying to help 22 get the “spark” 22 needs sets up the story’s journey and sets up the overall conflict and theme of what it was for someone to live. I don’t mean to live your purpose, but what it means to live and want you to do while you’re alive. The film shows both what Joe and 22 are missing out on and gets this message across well. They need each other to offer different perspectives; Joe is taking what he’s given in life for granted and 22 missing out on living and reasons to start a life. They are a perfect pairing of the story and the character arcs that they go through.
The side characters in Soul didn’t feel like throwaway characters but helped in the main character’s journey. Libba, voiced by Phylicia Rashad, Joe’s mother, wishes him to stop pursuing Jazz and get a stable full-time job; Dez, played by Donnell Rawlings, Joe’s barber who gave quite an insight I thought about living life in the few minutes he was on screen. Even Curly, voiced by Questlove, a former student that helped Joe gets his break with Dorothea, played by Angela Basset, the jazz legend that hires him to play in her band. These are some of the characters that help Soul stand out as one of the better movies and stories I watched in a while.
The animation felt very simple but effective. I know Pixar came a long way from its first films, but their animation techniques in Soul took risks and something that I can’t recall seeing in a Pixar film in years. While in New York, Soul showed a vibrant, jazzy life all around Joe with some great lighting that exemplified the characters and their lives. The film had the usual Pixar detail but added dynamic lighting at times on the characters and helped them out with features, actions, and animations. In “The Great Before,” you have many dark colors and backgrounds that bring out the Soul’s form. The Soul’s bluish hue color and simple rounded shapes make them stand out and feel more ethereal. The Gerry’s, Soul counselors of “The Great Before” are 2D line drawing styled characters that looked like abstract art. Made up of a few lines and circles, and they looked so good animated on the screen against the background in “The Great Before.” Even their movements are abstract at times, looking like the move and slither along a linear path.
The music was excellent and set a distinctive tone for both worlds. In the “Great Before,” the musical score was written by Atticus Ross and Trent Reznor while Jon Batiste composed the jazz music. Jazz music on Earth gave the frantic high-paced world of New York City, but it can also slow at times for the characters to enjoy life and all of its offering. While “The Great Before” trance ethereal music made it feel open and surreal. It might make your Soul feel like it is going out of your body if you listen and meditate to the soundtrack. Both music scores’ gave Soul a feel of trance and understanding about the world and how some characters in the film can reach a euphoria of happiness and purpose.
There is a lack of a real villain or any villain at all in Soul. One called “The Accountant” named Terry who is after Joe after discovering that the count is off by one of the souls going to “The great beyond.” I’m guessing that choice was to keep children’s interest in Soul. But I can’t help but wonder if this was necessary. Inside Out also didn’t seem to have any villains or antagonists, rather a conflict about feelings and happiness to briefly sum the film up. Terry did provide a funny moment or two in Soul, but it might not be a critical role put into the movie.
Speaking of kids, I’m not sure that this is a movie for kids maybe under ten years older. The was one of the most mature-themed Pixar films that I’ve seen, perhaps ever. Themes of what you are doing with your life and the definition of what it takes to live aren’t precisely on kids’ minds. The marketing felt like it was aiming for them but should instead be towards adults. There is no subtitle message and enjoyable adventures like in UP or any colorful characters or personalities like in Inside Out. Pixar’s Soul is the closest I felt to a mature audience Pixar movie created and shown.
My Summarized Thoughts of Soul
Pixar’s Soul was a very unexpected movie from Pixar. A theme of what you are doing with your life is a departure from previously released Pixar films. Pixar looked to take a chance, and it paid off for me. The animation felt a lot more simple but looked beautiful. The music and soundtrack were excellent. I can’t see kids watching this movie and keeping their attention. This film is more of an older mature Audience than for kids under ten, and maybe marketing should have shown it as such.