In 2020, many people no longer adhere to archaic understandings of life paths and the impact that one individual can make on the world. Though life certainly isn’t without its challenges, many of us are beginning to understand that you can have many passions, journeys, and dreams throughout your lifetime. If you are lucky and brave enough to embark on one or more of them, then you’ve really lived. In Disney/Pixar’s latest film, Soul co-directors Pete Doctors and Kemp Powers remind the wisest and youngest among us that life isn’t about the destination; it’s about the journey.
Soul follows Joe Gardner (Jamie Foxx), an aspiring musician and part-time middle school music teacher who finally earns the gig of a lifetime, just as he’s offered a full-time role at his school. While Joe finds fulfillment in watching some of his most talented students hit the right notes, he’s been chasing after his own dream to become a renowned jazz musician for as long as he can remember. Though weary after facing so many false-starts, Joe refuses to be defeated even when his mother, Libba (Phylicia Rashad), a tailor and businesswoman, urges him to be more practical as he approaches his middle adult years.
Though he’s been disappointed in the past, when drummer Curly (Questlove), a former student of Joe’s, offers him the opportunity to play in jazz legend Dorothea Williams’s (Angela Bassett) band, he jumps at the chance. Unfortunately, for Joe, he jumps a little bit too far. Amid his glee and enthusiasm, running around the streets of Nee York City, Joe falls into a manhole propelling his soul into the Great Beyond. Adamant about finally living out his dreams and getting back to Earth, Joe’s journey leads him to The Great Before, the place where our personalities are formed before we are propelled into the world as we know it. Instead of a direct path back to his life and his breakout debut, Joe is saddled with a reluctant mentee 22 (Tina Fey), a soul in training who has no desire to ever go to Earth or to find her spark — the life’s passion that will get her on her journey to becoming a full-fledged human being.
While 22 has had previous and rather lofty mentors like Abraham Lincoln, Mother Teresa, and Muhammad Ali, none have been able to convince her to move past The Great Before, but Joe has a lot more life to live. Even when a mishap pulls Joe and 22 down to Earth, she’s still reluctant and hesitant to open her eyes and embrace what Earth has to offer, both the good and the bad.
Though no less impactful than Doctor’s Inside Out, Soul is a lot more complicated and might be a tad too lofty for children to grasp some of the life lessons embedded into it. Yet, the beauty of the narrative and the stunning imagery with a mostly Black-cast at the center cannot be understated. Moreover, the exquisite details of New York City, from the skyline to the artist haven in The West Village, have all of the gorgeous details and colors that we’ve come to expect from a Pixar film.
There was also a great deal of concern that Soul would be a repeat of The Princess Frog, where we’d be looking at the representation of Joe’s soul instead of his body for most of the film. As Pixar’s first feature with predominantly Black characters, this isn’t the case. However, there is an unexpected twisting in the film that may raise some eyebrows.
Like previous films from the famed animated studio, Soul is nuanced and layered, but it’s not perfect. Yet, despite the serious themes, the richness of the narrative and the stunning jazz score make it more than worthwhile. More than anything, it’s a film that reminds us to chase our dreams, as Joe does, but to live life to its fullest potential in the midst of doing so. Soul is a reminder that life is about more than just existing.
Soul debuts on Disney + Dec. 25, 2020
Aramide A. Tinubu is a film critic, consultant and entertainment editor. As a journalist, her work has been published in EBONY, JET, ESSENCE, Bustle, The Daily Mail, IndieWire and Blavity. She wrote her master’s thesis on Black Girlhood and Parental Loss in Contemporary Black American Cinema. She’s a cinephile, bookworm, blogger and NYU + Columbia University alum. You can find her reviews on Rotten Tomatoes or A Word With Aramide or tweet her @wordwitharamide