I loved Soul, but my kids can’t necessarily say the same.
If you’re unfamiliar with the film, the premise is that Joe, a middle school band teacher, is finally about to catch his big break after years of near misses. He’s landed a coveted jazz gig, one that could literally change his life, but then experiences an accident that will probably end up killing him hours before his performance. He travels to a point leading to “the great beyond,” but manages to escape that plane of existence by finding the place souls reside before being born. From that moment forth, he attempts to hitch a ride back to Earth in order to repossess his own body.
Does that sound complicated? It is. Yet, for as complex and even existential as Soul is, it unfolds in a fairly straightforward manner.
At its heart, Soul is about managing what drives us in life while still maintaining a willingness to enjoy every day. It’s an important lesson, one that I think many adults will respond to. Furthermore, as a parent, I strongly reacted to how we guide our children through childhood. We so often want our children to find “their thing,” to excel in a specific area, that we forget to allow them to simply explore all of life’s facets. Soul reminds us that living well should be enough.
The animation is, as you would expect from Pixar, exquisite. In fact, my wife commented that, until the characters enter the frame, the Earthly environments are photorealistic. I also have to commend the surrealistic scenarios depicting those moments beyond reality as we know it. They were challenging, astonishing, fun, and beautiful.
In fact, Pixar showed incredible bravery in even making Soul. This is a high-concept, philosophical, even potentially controversial film–and it’s a children’s movie! But, even having said all that, it’s fun. It’s funny. Even while diving deeply into the meaning of life, it’s still graceful and lighthearted.
Of course, when a movie features a jazz musician, the jazz must be perfect. Jon Batiste fills that role flawlessly. And as for those reality-bending moments outside of life as we know it? Who else could be better at that kind of music than Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails fame?
Finally, Jamie Foxx delivers a likability to Joe even when Joe is not always likable. Joe has allowed his passion to overtake virtually every other aspect of his life, and Foxx understands how to convey this without making Joe seem villainous. Tina Fey plays a soul named 22 who becomes ensnared in Joe’s plot to return to Earth, and, like Joe, 22 is not always her best self. Yet, Tina Fey straddles that line between making 22 both annoying and lovable that, frankly, shouldn’t have worked. In the end, both Foxx and Fey’s voices are the reason the movie hits the emotional pitch that it does.
However, though my wife and I loved it, I should note that my kids weren’t crazy about it. My eight-year-old had a little trouble following the plot and said everything kind of looked the same, whereas my twelve-year-old described it as just “okay” and kind of “weird.”
Pixar has sometimes been accused of making very adult children’s movies, and I wonder if Soul will end up winning over more adults than children. Regardless, Soul is a daring, gorgeous movie that isn’t afraid to tackle truly existential issues.