‘Soul’ Movie Review: Pixar Movie Loses Its Soul Along the Way

Soul follows a cinematic tradition of portraying the afterlife. Some movies have traditional clouds and pearly gates like Heaven Can Wait. Some are irreverent like Defending Your Life. Some are abstract like What Dreams May Come or technical like Nine DaysPixar‘s is a little of both.

Soul: Joe and 22
L-R: Joe and 22 | Disney/Pixar

Soul combines the abstract and the irreverent. As such, it also makes some unusual choices, some of which may stray from its most salient potential. All in all, it is fine holiday entertainment for the whole family on Disney+.

Pixar has ‘Soul’

Joe Gardner (Jamie Foxx) is a music teacher. He gets offered a fulltime job and the opportunity to play with the Dorothea Williams Quartet in the same day. His audition goes so well, he’s distracted and falls into a manhole. 

Soul: Dorothea Williams Quartet
Joe (left) auditions for Dorothea Williams (right) | Disney/Pixar

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Joe’s soul wakes up on the way to The Great Beyond, but he escapes from the path and goes to the Great Before, or Youth Seminar where baby souls are assigned personalities before they are born. Joe gets paired with soul 22 (Tina Fey) whom the greatest souls have tried to mentor but she’s still here. Together, they travel through the afterlife hoping to return Joe to his body, and 22 hoping she can just skip the whole life part and go straight to the Great Beyond. 

Pixar’s heaven and earth

Soul’s afterlife is full of surreal realms from the soothing Great Before to the cold black filing bureaucracy where Terry (Rachel House) counts every soul. The Hall of Everything features outlines of places we recognize, but lacking enough filling to convey the notion that they are hypothetical approximations. 

Pixar's Soul: Terry
Terry (right) keeps tabs on all the souls | Disney/Pixar

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Moonwind (Graham Norton) is a mystic leading out of body souls who can transcend to the soul realm while their bodies are alive on Earth. He sails a neon pink boat through a chill blue space. 

Pixar’s New York is quite impressive too. It doesn’t go to seedy Taxi Driver areas, although it is honest about the subway, but it accurately recreates the residential and commercial areas with texture and atmosphere of the city.

Pixar loses its ‘Soul’

Soul changes into something else midway through the movie. No spoilers here, but your mileage may vary whether or not you like the new direction as much as the poignant, surreal realm the first act set up. 

Soul: 22 and Joe
L-R: 22 and Joe | Disney/Pixar

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Joe and 22 still encounter more music along their journey. Imagine animating accurate piano playing, and a full band playing in sync. Abominable did that too but Soul would have already been animating by the time it came out so both films may have come at their music animation separately, but equally precise. 

Soul comes to some healthy conclusions about what we may assume to be our purpose, and those unrealistic expectations for the impact a single event will have. Movies often enable those kinds of expectations instead. The film could have stood another draft to really make those themes cohese with the potential of the beginning, and they actually have an extra year if they want it. But the version they completed isn’t bad. It’s just not Pixar perfect.