I could start this review out with a cliché that somehow connects this soulless reviewer with a discussion on Disney-Pixar’s “Soul,” premiering on Disney Plus Christmas Day.
However, I am not soulless. I might be a sourpuss, but I am not soulless.
“Soul” is the story of Joe Gardner, voiced by Jamie Foxx. Joe is your typical Disney character, with untapped talent (yes, I juxtaposed a jazz joke there, sorry) as a jazz pianist who is trapped in the body of a school teacher.
I used the phrase ‘trapped’ because Joe is compelled to do a day-to-day grind as the aforementioned school teacher, a noble profession in and of itself, instead of following his passions. The film explores the reasons why with a surprising amount of depth as Joe is forced to examine his own life and his relationships with both family and music.
It is fair to say that “Soul” is perhaps the most grown-up Pixar film to date. Sure, other films have explored more adult themes; however, “Soul” really aims the film toward adults, people who are children at heart. Children will still enjoy the animation and question the themes of death, redemption, friendship, and the need to be included and wanted.
To get to that point, though, Joe passes into the Great Beyond. I hadn’t watched the trailers before seeing the film, so his ‘journey’ caught me off guard. As far as transitioning into the hereafter, I was pleasantly surprised.
Joe is at the top of his world when things go upside down on him. The film hits a little lull when he tries to return to his old life, escaping the Great Beyond for the Great Before. Fate, such as it is, has other plans for him when he meets 22, voiced by Tina Fey. 22 is a soul trapped in the Great Before with a dim view of life.
As it is, Joe and 22 become a match made in heaven (yes, another poke at the afterlife.)
It is their journey together back on earth where the film really picks up the pace.
Pete Docter’s direction and his script, co-written with Mike Jones and Kemp Powers, really touches parts of what makes us human by creating a true yin-yang between Joe and 22 – the characters really need each other in an almost symbiotic way. However, their personalities are so very unique that they each stand out apart from one another. There’s a nice duality in how each of the characters is disconnected from their realities; it’s a nice blend of situations between the two characters and how we react to those situations; the film’s penultimate point is about we learn and grow from our shared experiences.
The film’s depth is really driven through another character, that of the music from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. My feet are still tapping at the pulse-pounding jazzy beats throughout the film. The supporting voice cast of Phylicia Rashad, Daveed Diggs, Angela Bassett, and Questlove really drives home the film’s more adult themes. In fact, I think the scene between Joe and his mom, Libba, really hit home. Keep an eye out for Rachel House’s Terry, too.
I confess that “Soul” also had me thinking of Carl Reiner’s “All of Me,” from 1984 featuring Steve Martin. Both films explore similar themes of finding the best parts of yourself through a shared, intimate and human experience with someone else.
All of me
Why not take all of me
Can’t you see
I’m not good without you.
At the end of the day, the “Soul” themes are a bit more adult than your average Pixar film. Some moments get lost in the shuffle. However, it tugs at the passionate at heart’s heartstrings and should please humans of all ages and stages in life.