Soul was released on Christmas day 2020 on Disney+, it would have been a wide cinematic release had the world not been in lockdown. Unlike Mulan, Soul was free for all members of Disney+. The movie was very heavy for Christmas day viewing. The plot centers around a jazz pianist who is between life and death. Jamie Foxx voices Joe, the pianist. Disney has always been behind in having black lead characters, so it is nice to see Pixar finally include one. Notably, he is a grown man and not a child. The path the story takes about half-way through is also questionable.
Tina Fey voices 22, a soul that has yet to enter a body. Joe is charged with finding 22’s ‘spark’, a stand-in for the meaning of life. 22 is happy to stay where souls get their personalities in a metaphysical world and Joe is desperate to get back to his body and continue living. The movie spends a lot of time in the metaphysical world and even features conduits between the physical world and the metaphysical. It feels like an odd choice for Pixar to explore. Coco’s afterlife felt much more grounded in a tradition where Soul’s flow state area felt too ‘Hippy’. However, the film spends enough time on earth to avoid being too ‘hippy-dippy.’
Every soul gets a spark before going to Earth. The spark seems to be tied with a passion and skill set. It posits that everyone’s spark is something that they are destined to pursue in life and are innately good at. I think this is a bit childish for Pixar because they are generally great at exploring deep meaning in a way that adults and children can both enjoy. I do not believe that everyone’s life passion lines up with their work or what they are best at. My job is far from what I am passionate about outside of work and that is ok.
I do not think Soul sends the right message of finding your purpose in life. That topic is complex, and Soul is a rare misstep in the Pixar catalog. The concepts in the movie seem far too simplified for Pixar. Releasing this film on Christmas day meant that a ton of families watched it together after opening their presents. I can imagine that many families then had to have discussions with their children about the heavy topics approached by Soul. The film did not feel as sweet as I would come to expect from Pixar. It almost felt like cutting room scraps from Inside Out and Coco being combined.