'Soul' Is a Much-Needed Reminder That Life Can Be Pretty Great

Directed by Pete Docter and Kemp Powers

Starring Jamie Foxx, Tina Fey, Questlove, Richard Ayoade, Daveed Diggs, Angela Bassett

BY Alex HudsonPublished Dec 15, 2020

In a year of stress, boredom and fear, Soul is here to remind us that being alive is awesome. Sure, things like a pandemic or impending fascism sometimes kill the vibe, but Pixar's latest highlights all the little details that make life worth living: the taste of pizza, the sound of music, the light shining through an autumnal tree.

Soul follows Joe Gardner (Jamie Foxx), a middle school band teacher who dreams of being a professional jazz pianist and is on the verge of realizing his dreams after landing a gig accompanying prestigious sax player Dorothea Williams (Angela Bassett). He aces his audition, but then has a tragic accident and finds himself in the Great Beyond (i.e. the afterlife). From there, his disembodied soul teams up with a cynical unborn spirit known as 22 (Tina Fey), and the two escape back to the living world so that Joe can try to make it to the gig.

It's a spiritual sequel of sorts to 2015's Inside Out, another Pete Docter-directed Pixar film that embodied humanity's metaphysical selves as cute cartoons (instead of avatars of emotions, here we have souls manifested as cute turquoise blobs). And like Inside Out, it uses its fanciful concept to offer genuinely touching insights on life. As Joe shows 22 all of the things that make being alive great, it allows us to see the world through fresh eyes and experience it as if for the first time.

Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross deliver a twinkling synth score that's a little less jarring than their usual fare, but still adds a sense of ethereal spookiness to the depiction of the astral plane. And Late Show bandleader Jon Batiste handles the jazz compositions, making for a musical yin and yang that beautifully symbolizes the spiritual and earthly realms.

Throw in plenty of Pixar's signature visual gags and some wacky body-swapping, and Soul strikes a perfect balance of comedy and sentimentality. It tackles some heavy themes without ever feeling laborious or difficult to watch.

It's a profound lesson that the best parts of life are what happens when you're not really paying attention. Regardless of whatever dystopian disasters happen to be going on in the world, Soul's message is always worth remembering.

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