This week my pick is one of my favorite films of the year – Disney Pixar’s Soul. Over the years, brand Pixar has become shorthand for excellence. Pixar movies might be animated but they contain enough layers to work for both adults and children. Even their middling titles have passages of poetry. Soul is a lesson in living life to the fullest. I know that sounds like a tired Instagram post but director Pete Docter turns it into a joyous exhortation. The film is co-directed by Kemp Powers. Docter, Powers and Mike Jones wrote the story and screenplay.
Soul is about Joe, voiced by Jamie Foxx, a New York middle-school band teacher. We meet Joe on the best day of his life. He’s been offered a permanent job at the school and landed a gig playing piano for a jazz quartet. But then, he falls into a manhole and dies. This isn’t a spoiler – it’s in the trailer. Suddenly, Joe finds himself on a conveyor belt going to the Great Beyond. But Joe’s not ready to go yet and he runs determinedly in the other direction. Something I suspect many of us will do when our turn comes. Joe falls off and ends up in the Great Before, where souls are being prepped for earth. As part of the complex rules of the Great Before, Joe is required to mentor a new soul 22, voiced by Tina Fey. 22 has been mentored for thousands of years by the best, including Abraham Lincoln and Mother Teresa but she has no interest in going to earth. Of course, through adventures that are trippy and a tad convoluted, Joe and 22 teach each other why life is worth living.
Soul tackles weighty themes with a light touch. It asks us to consider our own mortality. It reminds us to savor the everyday pleasures of our world – like pizza or the way autumn leaves glow in the sunlight. It shows us the hollowness of the blind pursuit of goals and tells us to stop and smell the roses. And it does this with generosity and wit. In one scene, 22 quips, “You can’t crush a soul here. That’s why life on earth is for.” The visuals are delightful and madly inventive – at one point, Joe’s on a ghostly pink ship, which has tie-died sails and Bob Dylan music playing on a loop. The film has been scored by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross and the jazz pieces have been arranged by Jon Batiste. Soul might not hit the sublime heights of Docter’s last feature Inside Out but there is so much to love here. I was a weepy mess when the film ended. You can watch Soul on Disney Plus Hotstar Premium.