It Raised My Spirits: A Review of Disney Pixar’s “Soul” (2020)


I was intrigued yet slightly underwhelmed after viewing the teaser trailer for Disney Pixar’s “Soul” (2020). I was excited to watch a film about an up-and-coming jazz musician but was surprised to find this character dead halfway through the teaser. Like many others who saw this trailer, I was expecting something more mature and artistic while “Soul” seemed to align itself with a more imaginative storytelling style akin to another Disney Pixar film “Inside Out” (2015). I am glad to say “Soul” (2020) surpassed these apprehensive expectations, proving itself to be a thought-provoking and uplifting exploration of what makes life worth living.

“Soul” (2020) tells the story of Joe Gardner (Jamie Foxx), a middle school music teacher who aspires to be a jazz musician. After finally getting the big break he’s always dreamed of, Joe Gardner has an untimely death and finds himself heading toward the Great Beyond. Joe refuses to die and attempts to escape but accidentally falls into the Great Before where he is assigned the task of mentoring a cynical unborn soul, 22 (Tina Fey).

Disney Pixar maintains their reputation of producing beautiful films. The vibrant colors and realistic textures of the New York setting emphasize the relatability of the human experience on Earth while the ethereal blues and almost hazy lighting in the Great Before give the setting a dreamlike quality. The character designs are unique as well; there are a wide arrange of body types, face shapes, and skin tones making the world of the movie feel as diverse as the New York population itself. The shapes of the souls in the film are thoughtfully designed; the unborn souls are round and small, like unshaped blobs ready to be molded into something, while souls that have bodies have distinct features mirroring their physical forms. The score and music styles in “Soul” range from jazz to ethereal, seamlessly shifting from one style to the other as the film shifts from one realm to another.

As abstract as the story’s premise is, the themes are relatable for many audience members. Many of us wonder what we are meant to do with our lives. What job should we apply for? What are we passionate about? What are we good at? Are we good enough to pursue said career or dream? What is our purpose? What gives our life meaning?

Although there are no straightforward answers for these questions, the film’s response is that life has meaning when you enjoy the small moments, when you enjoy the experience of being alive. We are not all going to affect the world in extraordinary ways but enjoying life in its simple pleasures is fulfilling too. Life is precious and we never know when ours will end.

While other movies about artists tell stories about artists working hard to attain fame and fortune, “Soul” (2020) makes the point that even after achieving success, there is no guarantee of fulfillment. One of my favorite messages in the film is that even our passions, like our anxieties, can twist into obsessions that can distract and drain us, leading us to become disconnected from life.

If you haven’t seen “Soul” (2020) and have Disney+, I recommend giving it a watch. It’s a beautifully animated film that’s humorous and intelligent with many details and concepts sprinkled throughout, making the movie easily re-watchable.