Pixar’s latest animation film, Soul, depicts the story of Joe Gardner (voiced by Jamie Foxx), an aspiring jazz musician working as a middle school music teacher, and his journey with 22 (voiced by Tina Fey), a rebellious soul. The film tackles fundamental questions about the nature of human existence, making it a particularly relevant and meaningful watch.
Joe’s dream of being a jazz musician appears to come to fruition when he finally gets the opportunity to perform alongside Dorothea Williams, a renowned saxophone player. However, Joe dies shortly after in the film and finds himself as a soul in the Great Beyond, a realm where other dead souls exist in a limbo-state.
Unwilling to accept death, Joe escapes and finds himself in the Great Before, where unborn souls reside. There, Joe poses as a renowned psychologist and is tasked with mentoring 22: he must help her find her “spark” which would send her to Earth. 22, however, is indifferent toward life on Earth, and agrees to find her “spark” so that she can give her Earth pass to Joe.
Joe and 22 both assume that in order to find 22’s “spark,” they must find 22’s unique purpose in life. They spend time trying out various activities and occupations, but their efforts are ultimately futile. In another attempt to return Joe’s soul back to Earth, 22 brings him to a character named Moonwind, who guides Joe to his real-life body in a coma.
As Joe jumps into the soul hole, hoping to return back to his body, he accidentally pulls 22 down, bringing her with him. To his surprise, Joe inhabits the body of a cat while 22 takes the body of Joe on Earth. Through 22’s experiences living in Joe’s body, she is, in time, able to find her “spark.” Joe then learns that a soul’s “spark” is not their purpose in life, but rather a reason for living.
A central theme in the film is the conflict between job security and pursuing one’s passions. Joe’s mother often discourages him from pursuing a career as a jazz musician, souring their relationship. Joe eventually succeeds, convincing his mother that chasing his musical aspirations are worthwhile.
While Joe ultimately does accomplish his dreams, the film also warns viewers on the dangers of holding a narrow mindset when pursuing one’s passions. Fixated on becoming a jazz musician, Joe realizes he is unable to cultivate as many relationships as he wants to, reminding viewers to live in the moment.
Since its release to streaming service Disney+ on December 25, Soul has been well-received among critics. A.O. Scott, a critic from the New York Times, writes that the film is a “small, delicate movie that doesn’t hit every note perfectly, but its combination of skill, feeling and inspiration is summed up in the title.”
Although the film is humorous and beautifully animated, its commentary on what makes a meaningful life is most notable.