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Updated: Dec 12, 2022

Released 2020. Director: Pete Docter, Kemp Powers

LET ME START BY SAYING SOUL IS THE BEST PIXAR MOVIE since Toy Story 3 (ten years ago) and easily counts among the top five (out of 23 to date, since 1995). It is also perhaps the most thematically complex, touching on life, death, pre-life, after-life, meaning and purpose of life, passion, inspiration, kindness, the soul… and jazz. That’s quite a lot.

Balancing this many balls in the air seems deceptively effortless for the talented and hardworking team at Pixar. This is an endlessly entertaining movie, breezily delightful with a tinge of sadness at the right moment, that signature killer Pixar move. Technically brilliant again, with superb voicing from Jamie Foxx and Tina Fey in the lead to supporting roles made memorable by Graham Norton, Alice Braga, Richard Ayoade, Rachel House, Angela Bassett and more.

Our hero here is Joe, lover of music and dreamer of better days, who is approaching middle age when he lands the opportunity of his lifetime to play piano in a jazz quartet. It’s what Joe has always wanted, more than anything else in the world. Before he even gets to play the first note, very unfortunately, Joe gets in an accident and his life is now precariously on the line. His soul, in the meantime, finds itself on a conveyor belt to the great beyond, as Joe scrambles to get back to his body, ‘cause dude’s got a gig to play tonight!

In this transit realm Joe learns about souls being assigned personalities at the You Seminar before birth by a team of squiggly line-drawn beings, all of them called Jerry. Let’s see, this one shall be an agreeable skeptic, that one an irritable wallflower, that other one manipulative megalomaniac and the one over there indecisive and absent-minded – completely at random. Now we know who to blame for what we are. Thanks a lot, Jerry!

Joe meets 22, a cynical soul who resists going to Earth to be born in a human body. These two become the odd-couple pairing, the dynamo that gives the story its kick and energy. Their quest – though their aims are completely different – takes them crossing the realms, a road movie of sorts where the journey melds literal, metaphysical and spiritual, until eventually they find something of value for each other.

Visually, Soul looks beautiful in its two distinctive palettes, warm and homely for New York, abstract and whimsical for the mysterious dimension. This dual-world setting is reminiscent of Inside Out (2015) where human emotions like joy, sadness and anger are personified, much like the soul given a voice and a form beyond physical reality.

Whether we see Joe in his lanky human form or his soul resembling a bouncy Champignon mushroom, he’s a character designed to be readily identified with. Pixar is especially clever in this area, crafting characters audiences could relate to, whether they’re a cantankerous old man, feisty princess, scary monsters, superheroes or plastic toys.

The adventure of Joe and 22 is like a highlight reel from the Motivational and Inspirational shelves, yet it’s never preachy. Joe looks at life with a reason to live. 22 looks at life with no reason to start living. Between them, Soul is about being kind and patient. In life, some people find what they’re looking for, some might not. The message here is to live every minute, including the 100 minutes spent watching (and loving) this work of sheer pleasure and marvel. A feel-good, cinematic hug.

Click image above to view trailer. New window will open.


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