Movie Review: Soul

By RJ Martin, Contributor
[Disney; 2020]
Rating: 9/10

Over the last year, we’ve had our fair share of eyebrow-raises and eye-rolls at various media trying to make some sort of statement about society in the wake of the pandemic. Pixar’s Soul is a film that actually does it well without even trying to in the first place. 

Read more: Movie Review: Mulan

We open on Joe Gardner, a middle school band teacher that aspires to make a successful career for himself in jazz performance. Joe finds himself in the rut of an unsatisfying life, until he finally lands a gig with jazz legend Dorothea Williams and succeeds in his prospects for a future. Unfortunately, on the way home, Joe falls down a manhole and dies. From there, he manages to find his way into the “Great Before,” where souls are formed and assigned their personalities before traveling to Earth. Joe slips by the “security” by passing himself off as a mentor for new souls, where he is then assigned a difficult soul (named “22”) that does not want to live on Earth. 

From there, the film spends much of its time exploring the dynamic between Joe and 22 and what they can teach each other. We’re definitely watching Joe’s story, but he doesn’t always feel like the main character, especially when the pair make it back down to Earth. Joe is desperately trying to find 22’s “spark,” or what most would think of as the meaning of life. Joe ultimately settles on not trying to convince 22 that there is a reason to live, but by bringing them to Earth he inadvertently teaches them how beautiful it can be. On the flipside, much of 22’s arc is spent humbling Joe, teaching him that not everything needs to be as serious or meaningful as he thinks.

Despite this, Joe has a realization toward the end where his expectations are all but crushed. What he built his life around, a single moment, turned out to be less than he expected. Resting and reflecting on his time with 22, he realizes that perhaps the meaning of life is just … living. It’s a beautiful moment in the film as well as an awesome reflection to be had in a time where everyone feels a little lost and dull. Soul truly makes you reflect on how you’ve built up your own life’s expectations, and it poignantly demonstrates how the things we put so much stock in might not be that important after all, sometimes.

This message builds and culminates in an awesome sequence toward the end, and the whole film is characterized by excellent voice acting, supreme visuals and surprisingly fun comedy. It’s hard to precisely describe the existential questions that this film raises, but its message is easily Pixar’s best since Ratatouille

Watch the trailer here:

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