“Carpe diem! Seize the day, boys. Make your lives extraordinary.”
Those are the words of Robin Williams’ Professor John Keating from Peter Weir’s 1989 film Dead Poets Society. Many films contain that message, but few capture the essence of it as well as Disney Pixar’s Soul does. This is a consummate Pixar film, with a number of stunning animated moments and a soul-stirring message. Like all great Pixar creations, Soul is for people of all ages to enjoy. After all, that is the beauty of all Pixar films.
The story could not be simpler. It is about a middle-aged music teacher named Joe Gardner, who dreams of becoming a jazz musician one day. He is in a profession that requires him to go about the mundane routines of teaching music to kids. Things seem to change as he gets a shot at reviving his middling career with a legendary jazz musician’s band. However, a strange situation forces Gardner to be in an odd world full of mysterious creatures. Think the world of spirits from Hayao Miyazaki’s 2001 anime film Spirited Away.
It is a faraway world that seems to be somewhere between earth and heaven/hell. Disney Pixar merely calls it ‘The Great Before’, and it has creatures that resemble the ones we see in our germ-cleaning product advertisements. There are many minion-like creatures here, plus silhouettes of other mysterious beings. One of those silhouette creatures must track a soul that somehow manages to escape from entering The Great Beyond, which is supposedly Pixar’s version of heaven.
Pixar’s animation here may not be as rich and imaginative as Miyazaki’s, but it is up there with some of the studio’s best. I admired the design of The Great Beyond and The Great Before. I liked the minions and found their actions quite quirky. The doorway to heaven, with a series of stairs leading up to it, seems like a nod to the Led Zeppelin song Stairway To Heaven. And there is an A-list voice cast, with Jamie Foxx and Tina Fey in the leading roles. There is also the UK TV personality Graham Norton here as Moonwind, whom Pixar describes as a ‘spiritual sign twirler’.
It is a pity that we must watch this film on a small screen with a Disney+ Hotstar Premium subscription. The above is not to devalue the streaming platform. It is instead to say that one should watch it on the biggest screen possible to enjoy it to the fullest. It is also an irony that we are seeing Soul at a time when there is no guarantee to our existence on this planet. So, Soul works as more of an existential film than it already is.
When watching the film, I wondered whether we will ever come out of our four walls and restart our normal lives. A good dose of optimism is like gold dust in this period, and that is what Disney Pixar provides here.
Disclaimer: This article has not been written by Film Companion’s editorial team.