On Christmas Day, Disney/Pixar released the feature film Soul on Disney+.
As with most Pixar movies, Soul was highly anticipated by children and adults alike. We all love the entertaining stories, humor, and lovable and relatable characters, all wrapped up in a life lesson. But unlike most Pixar movies, this one doesn’t seem to deliver for both younger and mature audiences. Think less Cars or Toy Story and more Inside Out in terms of content and depth.
Part-time middle school music teacher Joe Gardner (Jamie Foxx) has spent most of his life chasing his dream of becoming a Jazz musician. When he finally gets his big break, his life is tragically cut short. Unable to accept this, he escapes the escalator to the Great Beyond and mistakenly ends up as a mentor in the Great Before.
Enter Soul 22 (Tina Fey). While Joe desperately tries to return to life on Earth, 22 has spent centuries avoiding having to live it. The two reluctantly team up to achieve their own goals. On their journey through the ‘Zone,’ they encounter Mystics and Lost Souls. On Earth, they each connect with the living in new and meaningful ways. They experience several mishaps and learn some valuable lessons.
Through Gardner and 22, we learn about perspective: the joy of living, what sparks our joy, and the importance (or lack thereof) of knowing your purpose. Pretty heady stuff, right? While this message resonates with so many of us nowadays who have been longing for the return of life’s connections and simple pleasures, it may fly over the heads of younger kids. And there is little in the humor of the movie that kids can relate to, unless you are raising a history buff or philosopher. Overall, it’s just pretty cerebral, and like Inside Out, covers a range of adult emotions and esoteric themes.
That is not to say the movie lacks merit. The story stays with you even after it has ended. And for my family, it sparked some interesting conversations with my preteens. If you’re lucky enough to get your preteen to watch an animated film with you, you might find yourselves sharing deep thoughts after this one: not an easy feat and perhaps the film’s greatest achievement.
Another of the films big achievements is in the art itself.
First, the animation is impressive. As our future animator MousekeKid Jack pointed out, animating hands is a challenging task. I am not an artist at all, but even I noticed how beautifully Joe’s hands filled the screen. Not only did they look so very real, but they came alive as if they were characters in themselves. They made beautiful music, too. I was entranced watching Joe tickle the ivories while listening to the beautiful jazz music they created.
That leads us to another favorite part of the movie: the music. With Trent Reznor (Nine Inch Nails) composing the score and John Batiste (Late Show with Stephen Colbert) writing and playing the jazz, there was no way this wouldn’t be great. My husband has been listening to the soundtrack since watching Soul.
Overall, Disney/Pixar Soul is a film that has, well, soul. While it may not appeal to children elementary aged and younger, it definitely left a mark on me. So, if you are not expecting a typical Pixar story with the usual character archetypes and a broad appeal, you just might find yourself thinking about this one for days after seeing it. And to be honest, the more I reflect on it, the more I can appreciate it.
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