Soul, freshly released on Disney Plus (at no extra charge to subscribers, meaning they learned their lesson from live-action Mulan and live-action Lion King at 30 bucks a pop), is a delight no matter where you are in the journey of life.
The film follows Joe Gardner (voiced by Jamie Foxx), a middle school band teacher who moonlights, or tries to moonlight, as a jazz pianist. When one of his former students approaches him with an opportunity to play in a band with a saxophonist he greatly admires and respects, he jumps at the chance to audition. After “landing” the gig, he has an unfortunate accident down an open manhole and ends up in a coma in the hospital.
Rather than go into the “Great Beyond”, which is a tepid yet child-friendly approach to death, he refuses to give up his chance to play in the gig of a lifetime. Through a series of bumps and turns, he ends up accidentally mentoring a young “soul” named 22 (voiced by Tina Fey) to prepare her for life on Earth. 22 has apparently been there for a while, given that she (yes, “she” – they are not ambiguous about her gender) has been mentored by Mother Theresa, Abraham Lincoln, Carl Jung, and many other famous historical figures. Unfortunately, none of these wise and learned teachers can inspire 22 to find her “spark,” which essentially gives her a pass into the world of Earth. Through further character development, we find that she does not particularly want to find her spark so she strikes a deal with Joe’s soul to give him her spark-pass; now that she knows he wants it and it would excuse her from having to ever go to Earth, she definitely feels more motivated to get it.
The animation is flawless, but it does not rely on flashy gimmicks of the CGI variety rather than solid animation. It’s bright but not too bright, animated but not cartoony, realistic but not trying to be anything other than animation, etc. This is important because while your mind is revolving around heady concepts such as life and death, the meaning of life, where we go when we die, and other existential quandaries, a big “in-your-face” flashy production isn’t useful.
The script and acting itself is equally well-done. The tone is able to be serious when need-be but not so serious that young children will feel lost or confused. The humor is well-timed and also heartwarmingly poignant. Like most CGI movies, there are a few “in” jokes for the adults but nothing sexual, violent, or otherwise uncomfortable for parents to laugh at when their kids are around.
There is not enough room to write about how amazing the musical score is. A granddaughter of a late jazz musician myself, the centerpiece of jazz music lit my heart on fire and reminded me so much of my grandfather, it brought a tear (or twenty) to my eye.
As far as pro-life messaging within the film, there is none. While a person who is pro-life could understandably glean that message from the film, it’s purely an unintended consequence. Unfortunately, Hollywood has not gotten to the point of fairly portraying the pro-life argument in art and I would caution anyone against trying to staple that meaning or moral argument to
this film. Simply put, it’s a kids’ movie and is intended for that purpose. Another reason for refraining from championing this film as pro-life (especially over actual pro-life films like Unplanned), is that the film never goes into exactly when the soul enters the body of a human being. As far as pro-life proponents are concerned, most believe life begins at conception so without knowing the theoretical entry into the theoretical baby in the film, it’s kind of left up to the viewer to decide.
While some audiences might be upset that Soul is not a pro-life movie, even unintentionally, I feel it’s rather refreshing. In today’s age where Hollywood strives to push specific leftist political agendas into entertainment in the name of “progress”, it’s nice to have a movie that takes no hard line in the sand either way. Unless at church, I’m not a fan of being be preached to; I much rather view a very well-done story that entertains.
In the whole of the movie, there was only one “racially charged” political joke about the difficulty of a black man being able to hail a cab. That joke is mild (as well as historically accurate) politically speaking and has been used as a trope in many comedies, so I wouldn’t even say it made me roll my eyes or cringe more than it was simply there as filler.
For those, like me, who want to avoid eye-rolling and cringing throughout a new movie, Soul is appropriate for all ages and delivers a positive and loving message. If you’re a fan of being annoyed and angered, I would definitely suggest Wonder Woman: 1984.