Check out out this episode of the Video Lab Podcast, where Sam and I discuss this movie in more detail.
“Soul” is visual masterpiece, with a superb life quality to characters flushed with extra realistic details. That visual realism pairs with the film’s non-traditional story, which is downright countercultural compared to most kid friendly films. Growing up, particularly in the United States, youth are hammered with a flowery urging to find and achieve their dreams to find purpose. “Soul” flips that and reflects with an intentional focus on broader and more philosophical meanings of life.
Joe is horrified upon learning he has died because he deems his life meaningless without achieving his dream of being a jazz musician. But “Soul” explicitly cultivates a rejection of that notion, with an understanding that when a joy becomes an obsession, one can become disconnected from life and its enjoyment.
Its through a yet to be born soul, the character 22, who Joe observes experience simple joys and sensations as they run around New York. This leads Joe to finally let go of his singular obsession with jazz, accept his fate, and sacrifice his return to mortal life for 22 to have a chance. When he is given a surprise extra chance anyway, he finds a new lease on life. Asked how he will spend his life, Joe responds, “I don’t know, but I’m going to live every minute of it.”
“Soul” is surprisingly thoughtful and different in a way that only Pixar could do. Imaginative and explorative of deep concepts, but packaged with a duality of messaging for kids and older audiences. This can be tough, especially when a story cuts against a traditionalist mold so hard. But “Soul” excels, and well earns a place in the pantheon of stellar Pixar animations.