Movie review – Soul (2020)

Soul is the 23rd film to come out of Pixar Animation Studios and stars Jamie Foxx and Tina Fey. Director Pete Docter returns for his fourth Pixar feature. He previously helmed Monsters Inc., Up and Inside Out, all of which are critically acclaimed. I still haven’t got around to seeing Inside Out.

This film is a milestone for Pixar because it marks the first black protagonist for the franchise.

The movie focuses on music teacher and jazz pianist Jon Gardner (Foxx) who isn’t finding fulfillment or passion for being a teacher. He believes his life will only mean something if he becomes a famous jazz musician. He gets the opportunity of a lifetime as he’s invited by an old student of his to perform with him and jazz legend Dorothea Williams. However, he falls down a manhole and appears as a soul heading into the “Great Beyond.”

Now, this is where the film truly begins as Jon tries to avoid entering the “Great Beyond.” He falls out of this astral plane and finds himself in the “Great Before”, a place where young souls prepare for life on Earth.

Counselors, believing Joe is a human that has passed away, assign him to 22 (Fey). 22 doesn’t want to experience life on earth. She hates everything she’s been taught about earth and has failed to earn her earth pass even with mentors like Mother Teresa, Abraham Lincoln and Copernicus. From here, we follow these two’s journeys in one of the most beautifully-written stories in quite some time.

Thematically, there are many philosophical aspects thrown at you in this film. From an individual’s purpose, the definition of a soul to finding fulfillment in life, Soul does a great job of always keeping you on your toes and finding connections in your own life.

Joe believes there is a linear path to fulfillment and passion. Whatever you are good at doing, that’s what Joe believes is your passion and your fulfillment comes from being successful.

When he’s helping 22 find a “spark” or passion to get her the earth pass, he just throws a bunch of random items and activities at her to get her to enjoy it, but it doesn’t work as Joe gives her things that she can’t taste, smell or feel. The souls don’t have senses because those are only in the mortal body.

Soon, the pair seek out Moonwind, voiced by Graham Norton, to help Joe reunite with his body. However, Joe rushes back to his body before it is approved, which leads to a big mistake with both 22 and Joe.

This second act leads to some of the most heartfelt moments in recent memory and even in all of Pixar’s catalogue.

Without spoiling anything, I will say that 22 gets to walk in Joe’s shoes and experience all the great things earth can be and she immediately falls in love with it and the main message of the movie is that your passion isn’t your career or a certain goal, it’s simply living. 22’s final patch that she needs to earn her earth pass isn’t anything, it’s just earth because her passion is living.

I adore this message because it will hit a personal note for everybody. We all have passions that we strive to make a career out of, and when we don’t feel like we may reach our goals in the end, then we are going to feel like failures and that’s when the fulfillment vanishes. This movie wants us to just embrace all that life has to offer and to enjoy our surroundings.

Also, our passions may change. I grew up striving to be a professional athlete, but that wasn’t feasible and then I developed a passion for writing and photography, and I never looked back. It’s fulfilling whenever I can publish a review for you guys on here, or when I edit one of my writers’ columns. It’s the best feeling and that’s what Joe eventually learns in the conclusion of the film.

In the opening scene of the film, he encourages a student to keep playing their instrument even though she was laughed at by her peers. There’s a beautiful sentiment of mentorship throughout the film, and it’s one of the best aspects of the movie. While Joe knows he’s a great musician, he’s also a great mentor, and you see this development of realization as the movie goes along. It’s a great progression and one of my favorite character arcs from a Pixar release.

From a technical perspective, this movie is masterful. The visuals are breathtaking and you feel like you are implemented in every setting. There’s a scene in the second act of the film that perfectly sums up the claustrophobia of walking in New York City. The sound design throughout the scene is stunning.

The look and detail of the “Great Beyond” and “Great Before” are pure art. You have to give some much credit to the artists for this film because it is truly exceptional work. The color, the size, the space, all of it is used to pure visual brilliance.

I love this movie. There isn’t a single flaw or issue I have with it. The pacing is great, the visuals are immaculate and the writing and story are excellent.

As a connoisseur of music, I was floored by Jon Batiste’s work with the jazz elements of the score. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross also are great with these celestial vibes in the scenes in the “Great Beyond” and “Great Before.”

My favorite scene of this film comes toward the end when 22 and Joe walk to the subway and you hear a man singing and playing the guitar. The song this guy is singing is titled “Parting Ways” and is performed by Cody Chesnutt. The pair’s reaction to his performance is exactly how I feel whenever I hear a great song. It’s incredibly relatable and I was in full-on tears.

This is one of the best Pixar films ever, I think. There are no glaring flaws or any issues pacing-wise. Guys, this truly is a must-watch movie and if you have Disney+, stop what you are doing and watch it right now. If you know anyone who doesn’t have the streaming service, invite them over (wear your mask) or hold a video call and watch it virtually.

Soul is a masterpiece.

Rating: 10/10

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