Soul – Review

Worth seeing: as another vibrant Pixar gem that lifts the spirit and helps you find your place in the world
Director:Kemp Powers, Pete Docter
Featuring:Jamie Foxx, Tina Fey, Ahmir-Khalib Thompson, Alice Braga, Angela Bassett, Cora Champommier, Daveed Diggs, Donnell Rawlings, Graham Norton, Laura Mooney, Margo Hall, Phylicia Rashid, Rachel House, Richard Ayoade, Sakina Jaffrey, Wes Studi, Zenobia Shroff
Length:100 minutes
Released:25th December 2020, on Disney+


Joe (Jamie Foxx) has always dreamt of being a jazz pianist, but has ended up being a part-time school band teacher. When he’s offered the job full-time, his mother is thrilled, but he’s worried that spending more time in school will kill his dreams.

But a chance call from a former student gives him the opportunity to try out to as the pianist for a top saxophone player (Angela Bassett) and he manages to get the gig. He’s elated. He can’t believe his luck. As he bounds out of the club, bouncing with glee, he darts across the road – and falls through a manhole cover.

The next thing he knows, he’s on a conveyor-belt to the Great Beyond. He manages to escape, but finds himself in the Great Before, instead. Under the tutelage of the souls of some of the greatest individuals humanity has to offer, the aspiring souls have to find the spark they need to earn them a place on Earth.

But Number 22 (Tina Fey) has decided she has no interest in finding a body at all.

Hoping it will get him back to Earth, Joe poses as a mentor and gets paired – or lumbered – with Number 22, sending them both on a journey that will change their view of life forever.


What has happened to Pixar? Coco was about a boy who went to the underworld and fraternised with his dead relatives. Onward followed two brothers as they tried to resurrect their dead father. And now, we join a musician as he tries to get back to Earth, rather than head to heaven after falling through a manhole.

The studio famed for producing bright and bubbly family favourites seems to be so obsessed with death that it’s produced a trilogy on the subject.

It’s certainly the case that the discussion of death is an avenue to explore the meaning of life – something Soul majors on – but trying to explain to young viewers, for a third time in recent years, what happens when you die, doesn’t make for the most comfortable watch.

But for anyone with an acceptance of the notion of The Great Beyond, the idea of The Great Before is interesting to entertain – even if it’s not entirely logical, but I suppose, how could it be?

There are two main arenas for the story – on earth and in the “Great Before”, which itself is divided into the main area, where Picasso-esque counsellors, voiced by the likes of Alice Braga and Richard Ayoade, try to manage the training, while somewhat of an outlaw – voiced by Graham Norton – is keeping an eye on the “lost souls,” who’ve been failed by the system; if they can’t find the spark they need to go to Earth, it’s straight to the Great Beyond for them.

It’s a monstrously complicated, multi-layered plot, but with a variety of styles of animation and character design – depending on which arena we are in – the film is pleasing; down on earth, it looks so photo-realistic that if it weren’t for Joe’s overly chubby cheeks, you might even think it looks like a live-action film.

Don’t be mistaken – although the film is called Soul and it’s about music – it’s not about Soul music – this is very much a film for jazz lovers, not just because they’ll enjoy the soundtrack, but they’ll also share Joe’s passion for the music.

But anyone can enjoy it and will be challenged to stop, for a moment, to think about their own purpose.

Soul is at its best during Joe and Number 22’s visit to Earth – there we get the best of the Pixar sense of humour and the stand-out animation is mindbogglingly accomplished.

It’s thoughtful, entertaining, vibrant and life-affirming – but it’s a little complex, a tough ask for younger viewers and the narrative has a tendency to be somewhat inconsistent and disappointingly downbeat when you’re least expecting it. One person’s downbeat might be another’s profound, but they’re likely to be different audiences.

Soul, of course, will have a far more limited reach than earlier Pixar films as Disney have decided to launch it directly on their Disney+ streaming service, but unlike the recent Mulan – which was also denied a theatrical release by the pandemic – Soul is available to all Disney+ subscribers, without having to pay an additional premium.