Disney's latest feature film made a move to Disney+, eschewing a theatrical release and giving us something to watch on Christmas. Does that make Soul a Christmas movie? That remains to be seen, how this movie becomes a tradition of sorts. But, whilst it may not become a staple of every family's holiday viewing around the world, the movie Soul has a lot to give, a lot to say, and a lot of things that it gets so, so right. Let's dive in. (Spoilers ahead).
Joe Gardener is a middle-school band teacher whose big break comes in the form of... a permanent position in the faculty. The movie starts with some mediocrity that really shows just how beaten down this man is, and the colours reflect that. In fact, the movie goes right up until the moment of his "fall" before even throwing a title at us, because Joe's life - much like the movie itself - doesn't begin until it ends.
There, his soul sent on a travelator that is taking him to the Great Beyond, i.e. the afterlife. Joe rejects this because, mere moments before falling down a manhole, he gets a call to be a part of the band for one of his jazz icons: Dorothea Williams (Angela Bassett). Making a habit out of falling down abysses, Joe takes another dive off the travelator and makes it to a new land filled with ethereal glows, nubile souls and a lot of whacky, 2D counsellors. This land is called the Great Before and is where new souls develop their personalities under the pupilage of a mentor, one of whom Joe is mistaken for due to his maturity.
There, Joe meets 22, a soul whose existence has been thus defined by their inability to pass onto Earth. This is because they generally dislike the human form and living, which is nice. Humans are trash. New souls can only pass to Earth when they find their "Spark", which gives Joe an idea: if he can find 22's "Spark", he can take their Earth pass and get back to his life; an idea that 22 loves because they love the Great Before. Joe tries to do this through a number of ways, such as baking, firefighting, and pizza, but none of these take.
When Joe and 22 travel to where the lost souls are, they soon make it back onto Earth. Only, 22 takes Joe's body, and Joe's soul takes the body of a therapy cat in his hospital room. There, 22 gets to experience life on Earth, but not for long if the accountant from the afterlife has anything to say about it. Joe and 22 have a time crunch: they need to get to the club where Joe is meant to perform with Dorothea in order to switch bodies again. But, the accountant catches them and sends their souls back into the Great Before where it turns out that 22 earned their Earth pass because... well, we don't know.
Joe says that, because a Spark is a person's purpose in life, and 22 only found their Spark after being in Joe's body, Joe should get the pass. And get the pass Joe does, because he returns back to Earth and performs at Dorothea's gig to acclaim. But, he's not fulfilled. He goes back to his apartment and laments over the day he's just had, playing some music to get lost in The Zone, which is the boundary between the living and other worlds. There, he finds 22, who is now a lost soul, and tells them that they should go to Earth. Joe has already lived a life, and he doesn't need to live another one.
This was a great movie
It really was. There has never been such a fantastic interpretation about our place in the universe, what our purpose is, and how we interact with one another quite like this. Everything, from the characters' motivations, to the way the film celebrates blackness, to the stunning animation, was just perfect. There were so many moments that made me dislike Joe, but never to the point of disliking the movie. He was a man who was frustrated with everything in his life and he didn't take it out on anyone but himself; his death didn't come out of arrogance; he was just a victim of the universe, which is nice. The movie was really decisive about the lessons it tried to teach, and it chose to stick with the one that it did best: we are all learning, we are all growing, and it's never too late for your life to start.
Did you watch Soul? Did you enjoy it? Let me know!
Until then, happy streaming!