Pixar’s latest movie “Soul” explores the before life with a mixture of modern jazz, confusing storylines, and signature animation


Promotional material courtesy of the Wall Street Journal

Joe and 22 explore the Hall of Everything in the before-life in hopes of finding 22’s passion for life on Earth.

“Soul,” released on Dec. 25, 2020, showcases a complicated plotline with few redeeming qualities, inevitably falling short given Pixar’s past box office successes. The animation delivers, but the ground-breaking storylines usually produced by Pixar disappoint with this film.  

In the past 15 years since “Toy Story” debuted in 1995, 22 Pixar movies have been released with stand-outs like “Cars,” “Finding Nemo,” “Coco” and “The Incredibles.” “Soul,” the 23rd full feature movie released by Pixar since 1995, coaxes in viewers with high expectations set by prior Pixar films but fails to deliver. 

The main character, Joe Gardner (voiced by Jamie Foxx), is a middle school band teacher who feels purposeless in life because he hasn’t yet found his dream job of playing piano in a jazz band. When Joe finally has the opportunity to achieve his dream, he meets an unfortunate fate and dies. He wakes up as a soul on his way to the afterlife. 

Instead of going toward the light, like most do when they die in the movie, Joe finds his way to the “before-life.” In the before-life, he pretends to be a soul mentor to avoid the final death process. Mentors help guide new souls in finding their passions as they prepare for their human life on Earth. 

On his journey, Joe meets a rebellious soul named “22” (voiced by Tina Fey), who hasn’t been paired with a life on Earth yet. The story follows their adventures together in the before-life and on Earth, as 22 decides to help Joe try and return to his body and finish his life that was unexpectedly cut short.

The movie drew me in for the first 15 minutes while getting to know Joe’s character and backstory, all with the incredible New York City backdrop and jazz music. The story then switches to a ‘limbo world’ where Joe and other dead people figure out where to go next. There is also a before-life where souls (who look like blue ghosts) are paired with mentors who help them find their “spark” in life. Between these worlds, Joe, 22, and various other souls go to Earth to claim their bodies. These multiple storylines were tough to follow. 

There are, however, a few redeeming qualities in the movie. The overall production is impressive.  Pixar’s signature animation did not disappoint, especially with the depiction of the bustling New York City life. Another positive was the smooth and pervasive jazz music throughout the film. The music is composed by the Grammy award-winning Jon Batiste, who is the bandleader for “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.  In an NPR interview, Batiste even said Pixar created 3-D animation of his hands moving across the keyboard for scenes where Joe played the piano.  

The cast was packed with A-list movie stars like Oscar winner Jamie Foxx (Joe Gardner), Tina Fey (22) and Tony and Grammy award winner Daveed Diggs (Paul, the barber shop patron). “Soul” is the first Pixar movie with an African American lead, and as a whole the cast is one of the most diverse in Pixar history.  The all-pro voices helped make the characters likeable and added a spark to the otherwise ho-hum movie. 

I chuckled in a few parts, but ultimately found myself on the bored side during the movie’s repetitive 107 minutes. Thankfully I didn’t spend the $12.50 for a ticket with the additional $20 for popcorn, drink, and candy at a movie theater.

Pixar needs to up their game, not only with streamlining their storylines, but also with coming up with original content.  The multiple plotlines made for a confusing and ultimately mediocre movie experience. Consequently, I give this movie a 2 out of 5-star rating.