Spoilers for the great beyond coming up.
I did enjoy this movie. I have to say that, because I have some reservations that I can’t quite consider as objections, but there’s still there. It is, however, a very nice warm cup of soup for the soul, if you pardon the pun. I just wish we could’ve included just a little bit of spice which I feel was not far. That being said, it is one of those films that fully deserve the heartwarming qualification in its description. There is some jumps in the narrative that almost felt random but inevitably it manages to wrap it up for a conclusion. It’s Disney and it’s Pixar at their smooth traditional best, but also at their safest.
Soul (2020) was directed by Pete Docter and Kemp Powers who both also wrote the screenplay along with Mike Jones. Joe Gardner (voiced by Jamie Foxx) teaches music as a part-time teacher at a school in New York. What he wants to do is play piano with a real life Jazz band, such as the Dorothea Williams (voiced by Angela Bassett) Quartet. When an opportunity finally arrives, he feels in cloud nine and ends up in an accident. The next moment, his very soul is headed towards the great beyond. Frantically, he manages to jump out of the ethereal moving walkway and escape. Joe finds himself in a nowhere place where the souls are categorized and sent to life in Earth after they have found their spark, inspired by otherworldly mentors.
Inevitably, he ends up taking up the identity of a mentor and tasked with the most difficult of souls, Soul 22 (voiced by Tina Fey). Now he will have to try to convince her life in Earth is worth living… Just so he can take her place and go back to Earth himself. Yes, in this narrative Joe is literally trying to cheat his way back to his body, which obviously will go all sorts of wrong and eventually both 22 and himself will end up in a messy situation. Soul 22 will become Joe. Joe will become a cat. And hijinxs will ensue.
The formula is a very familiar one. Joe is obsessed with what he perceives to be his life’s true goal. On the other hand there is the obvious parallel of him being a teacher where he should be inspiring his students, particularly ones as talented as Connie (voiced by Cora Champommier), and the task of being a mentor to 22. And the problem here is that the movie seems to both say Joe should pursue his dream sometimes, and other times that he should be more of a mentor. The fact that both could be his goals as part of his passion for music is not considered. Perhaps this could have been resolved in a finale with an epilogue.
On the other hand, 22 represents someone who has never had a zeal for life suddenly realizing all what life has to offer (initially, pizza, which I understand). We’re supposed to get the message of living as 22 seems to be far more appreciative of Joe’s life than Joe himself. The truth is, we never seem to see Joe struggling with any life issues more difficult that a confrontation with his mother Libba (voiced by Phylicia Rashad). There’s a little deafness in the way that 22 seems to easily navigate Joe’s life. I want to assume it’s 22’s innocence versus Joe’s jaded weariness and so does the movie, but I feel there’s a conversation here about race that could have happened. I want to believe this is just a better world, but it could have had a meaningful impact in ours to at least dedicate it a minute.
I think the whole afterlife / pre-life content works fine, but the real world and colorful New York City neighborhoods had me yearning for a non-paranormal version of this film where Joe Gardner just learns to balance his life and learns to mentor and inspire Connie to play the trombone and becomes inspired for life. In other words, keep it grounded, real but still funny and wholesome. That being said, that’s a different movie. We’re reviewing this one. The actual film does work pretty good and will still stir up a lot of emotions. It is charming, it will move you and it is a positive film to put out in a world that desperately needs positive things right now without pandering. There might be a tad of a pro-life subtext in there, but not a blaring one. I just think Pixar has done safe before so why not – oh right, Disney is in that mix. That’s why.
Recommended as a heartwarming feelgood film which is a much needed comfort. I feel this movie crosses the barrier into an animated feature for adults more than any of Pixar’s (and Disney’s) previous offerings. Joe Gardner is an engaging character, one that we are concerned with even if he doesn’t seem to pay a lot of attention as to what’s in front of him. 22 is harder to nail down, we can’t really relate to an unborn soul and we never do get to see what becomes of her. As for Joe, that’s also left rather open-ended. It’s as much of an ending as the story could call for, but this leaves this warm jazz number lacking a more satisfying final note. Not a deal breaker, and still makes for a highly enjoyable experience.
That will do for now.