Life is jazz, and jazz is life. A long riff featuring one unpredictable note after another. Sometimes we soar while hitting a high note and two beats later we hit a flat note. That is what Soul (Disney+), Disney Pixar’s latest masterpiece is teaching us. In a year when all of our souls and spirits have been put through one test after another, we don’t need chicken soup for the soul, we just need Soul.
Joe (voiced by Jamie Foxx) is a struggling musician who teaches to keep the lights on when he gets two big breaks in one day: a full time teaching position with benefits so he can do adulting full time, and a chance to join the best jazz quartet band in New York. Then he gets a bad break. He dies.
He finds himself on the conveyor belt to The Great Beyond but, refusing to go gently into the sweet goodnight, he runs off and finds himself in The Great Before, with little souls about to head to Earth for their big adventure. Joe cons his way into mentoring a soul that’s avoided life for eons, named 22 (voiced by Tina Fey). 22 was the 22nd soul ever created, so she’s been dodging this for a looonnnggg time.
Eventually they make their way to a hospital on Earth where Joe winds up in the body of a cat and 22 takes over Joe’s body. There they both learn about life; 22 marveling at the ordinary and Joe regretting a lifetime of choices. Missed friendships. Lost opportunities. Wasted years.
The scene in the barbershop and the moment with the street busker are especially moving.
Heart & Soul
Soul is probably Pixar’s first movie for adults. The themes of introspection, loss, being adrift, and a search for purpose are way too much for Pixar’s usual audience of animation loving children. The movie could serve as a jumping off point for parents to have with their kids 12 and over. But the target audience for this movie is adults, who will relate their own midlife crisis to Joe and even 22.
With the smart supporting characters in The Great Beyond and on Earth the entire story is well rounded and deeply touching. I like that the rules and procedures in The Great Beyond are rather flexible and don’t slow down or limit the story. Pixar tends to build a universe and then rigidly stick to its rules. Not doing that here lets the movie stay nimble and find its heart.
Soul isn’t just the best animated movie I’ve seen in years, it’s one of the best movies I’ve seen in years.
The Critic’s Cocktail Recommendation
I’m having the Heart and Soul cocktail. A variation of a Manhattan, it features Dubonnet. And when was the last time we got to use that?!?