By Caleb Gierke
Pete Doctor’s Soul (2020) tells an impactful story about passion, purpose, and living that can resonate with all ages. Joe Gardner is a middle school band teacher whose one dream in life is to become a jazz musician. He feels like his life is at a standstill as the students poorly play their instruments. The Disney castle logo part being done by them made me laugh at how awkward, yet earnest it felt. It’s middle schoolers who barely know what they are doing, but are at least doing it.
Jamie Foxx’s voice work for Joe Gardner imbues that middle aged dead end job lifestyle that can be all too familiar to parents watching Soul with their children. We all think we have that one thing that we are destined for. However, for Joe that one thing seems to be turning up with rejection after rejection. That is, until he lands a gig with Dorothea Williams, a prominent jazz singer. Joe’s life is about to begin and then he dies.
Enter 22, voiced by Tina Fey. 22 is a soul that is still not ready to go to Earth and has had many important thinkers of our time try and fail to get her to go. Joe is unintentionally tasked with helping 22 get her Earth Pass, which is her ticket to start her life on Earth. The pair form a duo that probably would’ve never met except under strange circumstances. But the two form a fun relationship with each other and influence each other in various ways.
To use the soul metaphor, Joe and 22 are both looking to fill out their Earth Pass and find a reason to live. Both lie in their futures, but at different times in them. Joe’s life has been going for a while, but to him it never really started. 22’s life hasn’t started yet, but at some point needs to. No one can be a lost soul forever.
The visuals of Soul are some of the best Pixar has released to date. There is a sort of expressiveness found in the food tasting scenes of Ratatouille, but also a generally more abstract approach to conveying the stages of life where we lack our physical bodies. And the score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross adds to this surreal atmosphere with music that could double for music to listen to while you study if you wanted.
Overall, Soul is a very fun time that also can resonate deeply with all ages. It is a movie that is geared towards children, but Joe’s struggle with passion and purpose can resonate with older audiences. I’d highly recommend watching Soul on that front or if you just want to watch a visually appealing movie with jazz music.
Soul is streaming on Disney+. You can find just about everything Pete Doctor has directed on Disney+ as well, which includes films like Monsters Inc., Up, and Inside Out. For a film with similar themes about purpose and passion, but a lot less lighthearted there is Inside Llewyn Davis streaming on Amazon Prime. For another film with Jamie Foxx there is Just Mercy streaming on HBO Max.