Soul: A Bright Light in Difficult Times


From the bleak year of 2020 came an entirely unique, ambitious, and highly sophisticated film that ranks among the best of Pixar’s releases. Soul is not your ordinary animated film- it is proof that adults can appreciate the studio’s cinema despite the young age of its target audience.

Soul tells the story of Joe (voiced by Jamie Foxx), a high school band teacher with a deep-rooted passion for jazz piano that he has been unable to fulfill. After finally catching his big break through a long-awaited visit with renowned jazz performer Dorothea Williams (voiced by Angela Bassett), everything in his life seems to finally be falling in place.

Then he falls into a manhole.

What follows is a long journey through a Pixar afterlife in which Joe rebels against the idea that, on the brink of success, he will die. He refuses to go into the “Great Beyond”, struggling and deceiving the sometimes wise, sometimes crazy guardians of the next world who are humorously desperate to maintain an accurate “Count”, or number of souls who pass into the Great Beyond.

Perhaps because of the animation style, or perhaps because of the increasingly philosophical plot, Soul has been seen by many as a natural successor to Pixar’s animated 2015 success, Inside Out. The difference between the films may be difficult to understand without having watched the film, but in essence, Soul brings a realistic, thought-provoking, and emotional message on the purpose of life. The film challenges its viewers to consider ideas beyond the usual passion-finding tropes. It asks that you reflect on your family, your supporters, your career, your happiness, your treatment of others, and, most importantly, the reason you exist on this planet.

Where do you hope to end up in life? What do you want to achieve? Whose lives do you want to impact? These are the basic questions posed by the film, and while they may seem complex for a children’s movie, they are only the buildup to the ultimate question posed to every viewer. If you were to die right now, would you be content with your life? Soul asks questions that cannot be easily answered and cannot be googled. They are deeply personal and challenge the norm in animated movies of simple answers to profound questions (e.g. “do what you love). And, in the mix of this philosophical stew, Soul continues to deliver incredible, colorful animation and witty jokes that should maintain viewability for younger audiences. Most of the themes will go straight over younger audiences’ head – a move I believe to be intentional, as no child wants to be burdened with these questions.

That’s not to say you should not watch this movie with younger family members; to the contrary, its complex themes will mean that as you rewatch at different ages and times in your life, your interpretation of Soul will evolve right along with you.

One of the few slip-ups that Soul commits is introducing the cat narrative into the story. It sidelines Joe’s narrative for a good portion of the film. Joe’s cat figure is witness to his student on the brink of giving up music, and to his mother finally accepting him as a musician – one of if not the most significant event in his life. Unfortunately, Joe is nothing more than a witness to his own life’s progress while he’s a cat, and that’s the creative sacrifice that Pixar had to make.

Even weeks after watching it for the first time, I still find myself thinking back to the ideas I took away from it. I’ve revisited the film multiple times, both by considering specific lines or watching one of the numerous unique and touching scenes I connected with most deeply. I am convinced that Soul is the most poignant, emotional animated film I have ever seen. Its beautiful animation ties in perfectly with its message. I promise that it’s worth the watch.