Combustible Celluloid
With: Jamie Foxx, Tina Fey, Questlove, Phylicia Rashad, Daveed Diggs, Angela Bassett, Graham Norton, Rachel House, Richard Ayoade, Alice Braga, Wes Studi, Fortune Feimster, Zenobia Shroff, Donnell Rawlings, June Squibb, Esther Chae (voices)
Written by: Pete Docter, Mike Jones, Kemp Powers
Directed by: Pete Docter, Kemp Powers
MPAA Rating: PG for thematic elements and some language
Running Time: 100
Date: 12/25/2020

Soul (2020)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Wholly Spirits

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

With Soul, Pete Docter continues the metaphysical exploration of self begun in his great Inside Out. To go one better, he also enlisted Black playwright Kemp Powers — whose movie One Night in Miami is also being released on Christmas Day — to help co-write and co-direct the first Pixar feature featuring a Black main character.

Joe (voiced by Jamie Foxx) is a jazz pianist who makes his living teaching bored middle-schoolers. He's offered a full-time job at the school, but isn't quite ready to give up on his dream of playing in clubs. Then, he's given a shot: a former student lets him know that legendary saxophonist Dorothea Williams (Angela Bassett) has an opening for a piano player. Joe gets the job, but then he falls into a manhole.

The next thing he knows, he is a soul, ascending to heaven. He panics, races back down the great escalator, and winds up in the Great Before, where various counselors appear in amazing, abstract, two-dimensional bodies. There, he must mentor another soul, help it find its "purpose," before he can return to earth. Unfortunately, he's stuck with Number 22 (voiced by Tina Fey), who has no desire to go to earth, and shows no interest in anything. Then, as they attempt to get to earth by themselves, 22 ends up in Joe's body, while Joe occupies the body of a therapy cat.

There's a great deal more to the story, but to get out of this mess, they must enlist the aid of a spiritual sign twirler named Moonwind (voiced by Graham Norton) to help get their souls back in the right places, and get Joe to his gig on time. I've done a rather poor job of summing up Soul, but rest assured that Docter and Powers do a remarkable job of making things flow in the best Pixar vein. It's very funny, of course, but the most memorable moments are existential, when characters experience small revelations, begin to see what life is about.

One of the movie's most beautiful conceits is the "zone," where people sometimes go when they get lost in what they're doing, whether it's playing music or other creative outlets. I wish the movie's final moments had gone a different direction — it doesn't wind up as brilliantly as Inside Out did — but it's still a fine movie about Black Lives being beautiful, and it's a movie about acceptance, appreciation, and existing while we still have a chance.

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