If I said that I knew what this movie was about going into watching it, I would be lying. Because I didn’t read or watch a single point about this film going in, it made the experience a pleasant surprise to say the very least.
Seeing the main character, who is a Jazz musician by trade and combined with the title “Soul,” you get into a certain mind space going into this movie. What I got instead was possibly one of, if not the, most existentially and philosophically extensive works Disney and Pixar have ever made.
“Soul” follows burgeoning Jazz musician and middle school band teacher Joe Gardner (Jamie Foxx) who dies just after getting his big break at a Jazz club. In this film’s version of an afterlife, Joe finds himself taking somebody else’s place at a convention where souls get their personality traits and quirks before being born.
Joe is stuck with 22 (Tina Fey), a soul who has proven very difficult to find a reason to live (being that the soul ahead of her was about the 100 Billionth soul on record), so Joe tries to help her find that reason while getting back to his corporeal form to make it to his jazz gig that night. On the way, as many Pixar films do, 22 finds that reason to live, though not through methods one would call “conventional.” This film also features many varied celebrities such as Graham Norton, Questlove, Angela Bassett and Richard Ayoade.
This is quite typical of Pixar to pull, but this film and its topics are some that will probably fly over the heads of those younger viewers, and that is perfectly fine. Existentialism isn’t really something that anybody should be considering until their angsty phase at age 14. “Soul” has given itself a unique challenge in the pantheon of Disney/Pixar films in that it poses the question we ponder (or at least I do) every single day, “What is my purpose in life?” To some, the answer comes to them quite simply, like Joe at the beginning of the movie. He finally got his big break, and he keeps telling 22 that his purpose is to play the piano. 22, after inhibiting the body of Joe for a time, figures out her “spark,” which was the last step for her (and any other pre-soul) to become an actual human being.
Throughout the film, the “spark” and the purpose are intertwined in the minds of the main characters in the film. I believe that this ideology pervades many of us. I think this film concludes that a “spark” doesn’t have to be a purpose, and that the spark can be almost anything. Why are we here? I can’t say for certain. I guess that’s what I’m going to college for.
In the end, this film wraps up in a nice little bow, with everyone getting what they want in the end. There was a small part of me that wanted more closure in the instance of Joe, but after sitting on it for a time, I’ve come to realize that Joe did get the ending he deserves. All in all, “Soul” is, pun intended, the most soulful work that Disney and Pixar has made in a very long time.