Soul is saved by the cat, you might say. Whatever else you might think, Pixar continues to be the most creative of the studios. Pixar seems to delight in getting inside our psyche, witness Inside Out. Soul wants to know how we get our personality, our purpose in life, our spark. I suppose philosophers and theologians think about such esoteric topics, the rest of us, not so much. Why not use animation to explore The Great Beyond and The Great Before? Who would dare to do such a thing besides Pixar?
Truthfully, Soul starts out pretty slow. It’s hard to get into the soul counter and soul counselors. Then, we meet 22, a soul mentored by Mother Theresa, Copernicus, Mohammed Ali, Marie Antoinette, and Carl Jung, among others. None can convince her to complete her Earth pass and find her role in the world. For centuries, she’s remained in The Great Before with no interest in inhabiting the human form. Then, “sad and pathetic” Joe arrives and she willing to do a “body test drive.” The fun begins in the form of a switch as Joe becomes Mr. Mittens and 22 becomes Joe. I give Soul 4.0 Gavels and it receives a 97% Rotten Tomatoes rating with an 8.3/10 IMDb score.
Joe is unhappy as a middle school band teacher. Inspiring twelve-years can be tough, although Connie seems to have the “spark.” Seemingly destined to remain unfulfilled, Joe gets his chance to perform with the renown Dorothea Williams at The Half Note. Then, an open manhole turns his life upside-down. He barely escapes The Great Beyond by hiding in The Great Before. Bean counter Terry is looking for him. Will he be able to get back to his earthly body before being discovered? Certainly, recalcitrant 22 seems the most unlikely candidate to help Joe in his quest to return.
Jamie Foxx (Just Mercy) and Tina Fey voice Joe and 22, respectively. Joe asks why 22 has the voice of a middle-aged white woman? She answers “I just use this voice to annoy people.” Phylicia Rashad becomes Joe’s mother, Libba. I assume you will remember when she was everyone’s favorite mother on The Cosby Show. Angela Bassett, Daveed Diggs, and June Squibb are other notable voices.
While you may have trouble understanding “astral transmigration displacement,” you will have none with “jazzing.” Jazz is a central and wonderful theme in Soul. Likewise, you will enjoy the inevitable barbershop scene, apparently a must in every film of the black experience. But, most of all, bring back Mr. Mittens. He’s clearly a cat with, dare I say, Soul.
Rolling Stone may put it best. “There are many elaborate lessons on life and how to live it in Soul, though its best may ironically be its simplest: Look. Listen. Learn. Enjoy.”
As you ponder life, feel free to let me know your thoughts on Joe. Is his spark music or teaching? Why not both?