With their first 22 feature films, Pixar excelled at balancing the eye candy and action kids favor with the intellect needed to simultaneously keep adults entertained. As proof, one need only think of such classics as Toy Story, Cars, and The Incredibles. Surprisingly, film number 23 is the first Pixar film aimed directly at adults. Soul is a marvelous companion piece to the brilliant Inside Out (2015), but be forewarned, there is simply nothing, or at least very little, for kids to latch onto.
The film is co-directed by 2-time Oscar-winner Pete Docter (Inside Out, Up) and Kemp Powers (the screenplay and stage production of One Night in Miami, 2020), and they were joined on the screenplay by Mike Jones. And yes, it’s a brilliant script to go along with the always stunning Pixar visuals and effects. Brace yourself for a metaphysical exploration of the meaning of life and finding one’s purpose. As we’ve come to expect on Pixar projects, the voice cast is deep and filled with well-known folks such as Graham Norton, Rachel House, Alice Braga, Richard Ayoade, Phylicia Rashad, Angela Bassett, Questlove, Daveed Diggs, Wes Studi, and June Squibb. Leading the way is the dynamic duo of Jamie Foxx and Tina Fey.
Mr. Foxx plays Joe, a junior high band teacher still chasing his dream of performing jazz and experiencing the feeling that only music can provide…“the zone.” Instead, the school offers him a full-time teaching job, and his mother demands he seize the stability (and insurance) and give up his silly dream of jazz. As seen in the preview, shortly after an audition lands him his dream jazz gig, a freak accident occurs and Joe finds himself in “The Great Beyond,” where a conveyor belt takes those souls whose time has come to that giant bug zapper in the sky. Joe’s not willing to accept his plight and finagles his way into being a mentor for Soul 22 (Tina Fey) in “The Great Before” where unborn souls search for their “spark.” It’s all very existential.
After a look back at his life, Joe takes 22 to “The Hall of Everything,” which is the one segment in the film which felt underplayed…much could have been done with 22 looking for a reason to live. Instead, it’s a few great punchlines, including a Knicks gag that will surely play well among basketball fans. We learn of the fine line separating “lost souls” from those “in the zone,” and mostly we take in the banter between Joe and 22, as purpose and passion become the subjects of chatter.
As with most Pixar movies, multiple viewings are required to catch all the sight-gags, one-liners, and Easter eggs, however, the first viewing is like unwrapping a giant Christmas present. The opening Disney theme is hilariously played by a junior high school band, and the score is courtesy of Oscar winners Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross (The Social Network). Director Docter claims Pixar good-luck charm John Ratzenberger makes a vocal appearance, but I didn’t catch it. The film leaves us with the message that the meaning of life is simply living life…and keep on jazzing.
Soul is available on Disney+.