The 2015 Disney Pixar film Inside Out took us into the mind and emotional core of a young girl. In 2020’s Soul, directors Pete Doctor and co-director Kemp Powers go beyond the body to explore metaphysical matter.
The gorgeously animated Soul is also a play on the protagonist’s passion for music. Joe Gardner is a music teacher with unrealised dreams of becoming a performing jazz pianist. The 100-minute movie is being streamed on Disney+ Hotstar.
The film begins with disharmonious musical instruments playing in the background as the Disney logo is revealed. Joe Gardner (voice of Jamie Foxx) is patiently encouraging his largely disinterested class of 12 year-old students to try harder.
Joe’s heart is in jazz. When he plays piano, he goes into a trance-like state. Whenever he dreams of a life as a performing musician, his seamstress mother Libba (Phylicia Rashad) is quick to bring him down to earth.
If all good things come to those that wait, then Joe’s luck is about to change. He lands himself a gig playing with Dorothea Williams (Angela Bassett) at New York’s Half Note Club. As he skips along in glee, oblivious to his surroundings, he slips right into an open manhole.
Joe is now a luminous little creature gently riding an ethereal escalator in the sky. This is the Pixar version of the afterlife – cute, comforting and soulful.
In order to save himself from the Great Beyond, Joe enters a mentorship programme in the Great Before, where he is paired with a Number 22 (voice of Tina Fey), a soul reluctant to go to Earth. Joe is tasked with helping 22 find her “spark”, the missing piece that will complete her soul and make her Earth-ready.
The film’s theme is captured by 22’s words. As she resists Joe’s efforts, she says of the Great Before: “You can’t crush a soul here, that’s what life on earth is for.” Joe and 22’s adventures continue on Earth in the bodies of the scat singers they accidently inhabit.
Foxx and Fey are beautifully in tune. The original music, including the jazz pieces, underscores the energy, rhythm and Joe’s epiphany, which, after all the melancholy and body swapping, takes you by surprise. He realises that he let life pass him by just waiting for the right break.
Doctor, Powers and Mike Jones have written a sweet, simple, happy, sad, soul-stirring story that reminds you that every now and then that it’s important to stop and smell the flowers.