Soul follows Joe Gardener (Jamie Foxx), an aspiring Jazz musician and part-time music teacher who dreams of making it as a professional and becoming the real deal. On the day he finally gets the opportunity of a lifetime -a chance to play for a top Jazz band – Joe falls down a manhole. He wakes up on his way to The Great Beyond – a spiritual plane where souls move on to the afterlife. Except he refuses to accept his fate. 'I'm not dying the day my life just started,' he says. In a desperate attempt to escape death and get back to earth, he falls through a loophole and ends up in The Great Before, a place where new souls are prepared to live life. Here he meets a soul named 22 (Tina Fey) who wants nothing to do with life on earth. 'You can't crush a soul here. That's what life on earth is for,' she says. Out of body adventures ensue as the two form an unlikely friendship and help each other out to get Joe another shot at life, and spare 22 the torture of having to live one.
Soul is yet another winning Pixar venture that hits you in all the right places with how it marries a whimsical animated adventure with humanity and meaning. It's arguably Pixar's most ambitious outing yet, exploring lofty themes like what it means to live and die. Ideas which director Pete Docter (Inside Out, Up, Monsters Inc) navigates beautifully, creating an experience that's comforting, enriching, wholesome and hopeful. Docter, along with fellow writers Kemp Powers and Mike Jones, constructs a narrative that's constantly in motion, so you're never bored. But their greatest triumph lies in how Soul finds massive scale in the mundane, the possibility in the ordinary, the special in the every day, the epic in the intimate.
The fantastical 'epic' side of the film rests on stunning imagination and dazzling world-building in how it explores The Great Before. Watching new souls with traits assigned randomly had me laughing out loud – 'You five will be insecure and you seven will be self-absorbed'. As did a moment when we're introduced to the realm of lost souls – a place for people who have lost the will to live – which is largely made up of hedge fund managers.
Yet it's in the 'intimate' human side of the film that shines brightest. We see Joe re-examine his life as a teacher, friend and son. In a stand out scene, Joe visits his barber and for the first time truly sees him as a person rather than as a means to an end. Another memorable scene is when 22 is sitting down on a doorstep staring at leaves glowing in the sunlight and she experiences the magic of being alive for the first time.
At its heart, Soul offers a simple message – life isn't about a destination, but the journey. Its beauty isn't in rushing towards a fixed idea or goal, but all the moments that lead up to it and follow on from it. The magic of living lies in the smallest experiences, the inconsequential moments and the people that happen to us along the way. You can't choose the cards you're dealt but you can choose to live every minute of it. It's an old fashioned notion, but now, more than ever, an important one.