Pixar’s Soul review: What makes this movie so special

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Image used with permission from Google Commons

Pixar’s Soul features Joe Gardner, voiced by Jamie Foxx, and 22, voiced by Tina Fey.

Audiences didn’t know what to expect in 2019, when Pixar’s Soul trailer was released, giving little insight about the actual contents of the film. After its release in December of 2020, the movie has received overwhelmingly positive reviews, so let’s talk about why this movie is so unique.

SPOILER ALERT: The rest of this article has spoilers, so don’t read any further if you haven’t watched it yet and don’t want it to be spoiled.

Soul was different than any Pixar movie because it tackled a lot of deep and intellectual concepts. While some could argue that Pixar has done that before, with movies like Inside Out and Coco, the topics covered in Soul are a lot more mature and profound than those in other Pixar movies.

The movie begins with the classic Pixar movie set-up; nine minutes into the film, Joe finds out he’s gotten the gig of his dreams; performing at a jazz club with Dorothea Williams. But in a moment of excitement, he stops paying attention to what he’s doing, walks into an open manhole, and dies. Well, almost dies.

After jumping off the path to the Great Beyond, Joe finds himself in the Great Before. He pretends to be a mentor for new souls, and is paired up with the most difficult new soul in the Great Before, 22. They find a way for Joe to get back to Earth, but he brings 22 with him. 22 falls into Joe’s body, and Joe ends up in the body of a cat. It’s clear from this point on that their goal is to get Joe back into his body before his gig, and to get 22 back to the Great Before.

The first instance of 22’s character development is when she eats pizza for the first time and appreciates it like she’s never tasted anything in her life, because she hasn’t. Little by little, she starts to love life on Earth. She watches attentively as Connie plays the trombone, she eats a lollipop and talks about everything she knows with Joe’s friends at the barber shop, and she enjoys every moment living in Joe’s body.

As 22 goes through this transformation of learning to love life for living, instead of a specific purpose, it’s obvious that the little things 22 so appreciates, Joe does not. He takes these things for granted, saying to 22 that “those things aren’t purpose, that’s just regular old living.”

Dorothea puts this into words after the gig, when Joe tells her he’d been waiting on that day for his entire life. She says, “I heard this story about a fish. He swims up to this older fish and says, ‘I’m trying to find this thing they call the ocean.’, ‘The ocean?’ Says the older fish, ‘That’s what you’re in right now.’ ‘This?’ Says the younger fish, ‘This is water. What I want is the ocean.’”

The difference between Soul and previous Pixar movies, is that while Joe does end up achieving his goal, it doesn’t fix his life. It doesn’t make him a happier person, because it was a nice experience, but if his life was leading up to that gig, which he said it was, what does that say about the day after the gig?

Most Pixar movies end with the characters achieving their goal, but it leads to a resolution. After they achieve their goal they’re completely satisfied, and the story ends. Soul is different, because life doesn’t end after you achieve your goal. The entire story was leading up to much more than just this gig with Dorothea Williams, and he actually finds greater meaning after the gig, when he returns to the zone to help 22 out of her state as a lost soul.

Soul strives to help us remember that life itself is a blessing, even when it doesn’t go as we planned.”

— Paul Asay

One review from Paul Asay at Plugged In agrees that Soul’s goal is to appreciate living life. He says, “Soul strives to help us remember that life itself is a blessing, even when it doesn’t go as we planned.”

Another topic Soul covers is that passion can become a prison. In the movie, Joe and 22 venture out into the wasteland that is the zone, the place people go when they’re super focused on something they’re passionate about, but along with the people doing what they love in the zone, it’s also filled with lost souls, people who became so obsessive or anxious about something that they could focus on nothing else.

In this scene, Moonwind, who acts as a guide for the two in the zone, says, “You know, lost souls are not that different from those in the zone. The zone is enjoyable, but when that joy becomes an obsession, one gets disconnected from life.”

This isn’t a topic that’s talked about often, but it’s very relevant today. The way Soul tackles it makes it easy to understand for audiences and amplifies the main issue of appreciating life for itself, instead of finding a purpose for it.

Another important aspect of this movie is culture. When Soul’s trailer was released in 2019, and the main character was a Black jazz musician, a lot of people were expecting a movie about the Black experience and Black culture. While the movie doesn’t focus on Joe’s race, there are aspects of Black culture integrated into the film.

The only critique I have of this movie is the ending. Unlike Inside Out and Coco, which both worked up to strong emotional endings, the third act of Soul is a lot weaker than the first and second acts. The ending of Soul is much less emotional than it is intellectual, which isn’t a bad thing. The problem is that it leaves audiences with a super vague final act, ending the movie with a shot of Joe, who has a new appreciation for life, walking outside. It fails to show how these realizations impacted his life, or even show 22’s new life on Earth.

In conclusion, Soul was an impactful movie with important themes and messages, and while it may be aimed at a more mature audience, it’s still enjoyable for both kids and adults. It was totally different from the Pixar movies that came before it, and it is 100% worth watching.