Warning: Contains spoilers
Instead of the classic background music during the Disney logo, “Soul” opens up with amateur band music. The protagonist of this story is Joe Gardner, voiced by Jamie Foxx, who is a middle school band teacher. It seems like he genuinely cares about teaching his students, but doesn’t want to be a teacher for the rest of his career. After his untimely death, Gardner is sent to the Great Beyond where souls go to die, but while trying to get back to Earth, Joe falls into the Great Before, a place filled with unborn souls. He is introduced to Soul 22, voiced by Tina Fey, a soul who does not want to be born. They reach an agreement where Joe will take Soul 22’s spot on earth, and therefore keep the balance between living and dead souls. Joe begins as a selfish man with one goal–to get back to his body–but grows as a character, as he and Soul 22 help each other find meaning in life.
The beginning music, even though it tied into the movie, was annoying. Once we get to the band classroom, complete chaos can be seen. Joe is desperately trying to keep his cliche-filled class together. Kids are on phones, lounging on chairs, sleeping, and messing around with the instruments. Towards the end of this sequence, a girl named Connie, voiced by Cora Champommier, gets lost in the moment and plays her instrument really well. Her classmates make fun of her.
Who in their right mind would do something like that? Making fun of someone for putting in the effort and enjoying what they are doing? It’s almost like the other kids are jealous of her. She has the ability to play really well and, for the time being, the others don’t. Middle schoolers will make fun of someone for something as small as the color of a hair tie on their arm. So, while it doesn’t surprise me that this is happening, it’s something we have all come to expect from movies. Blowing things out of proportion and creating drama out of every little thing.
Joe shares his story of how he fell in love with jazz. His dead father (real surprising there, Disney) took him to a music club, but Joe didn’t want to be there and thought that it would be boring. Surprise surprise, he falls in love with the music and makes that his passion.
He gets pulled into the hallway outside his classroom by the principal and gets told that he will get to work as the band teacher full time. Flash forward to a small shop that is run by his mother. Next comes a truly shocking event: his mom doesn’t support his dreams of becoming a jazz musician. Good job Disney, I never would have seen that coming. The reason his mom gives for not supporting his dream is perfectly valid, though. She was worried about him not making a good salary or getting any benefits.
Joe then gets a call from an old student of his saying that he could get him the chance to play with Dorthea Williams, voiced by Angela Bassett. We don’t get much information about her except that she’s a famous jazz musician. As soon as she hears about Joe’s career, Dorthea immediately gets annoyed that they had to resort to getting a middle school band teacher.
Everyone else starts playing without explaining anything and expects Joe to go along with it. He does and gets lost in the music as he did earlier, except I still don’t care. Big surprise, he gets the position and is told to get a “good” suit and come back the next night for a performance. If you’re looking for someone to fill a position, waiting until the last second isn’t going to cut it. Who knows if he had any plans he had to cancel. Or if it was someone with a family. That’s such short notice that it really bothers me.
While he’s making his way back to his apartment, near-disasters happen all around him. Bricks fall from a construction site right after he walks away, he almost gets hit by several cars as he walks across a busy New York street. (That in and of itself is a crime). Suddenly, he falls into an uncovered manhole–because that’s totally what happens in real life–and he dies.
Soul doesn’t even “soul” until 20 minutes into the movie. And everyone there is just a little blue version of what they looked like when they were alive. The surroundings are black, except for a light on one side. We later learn this place is called The Great Beyond (real creative). Now here is where things get wacky. Joe turns around and sees three souls. They explain they are dead, nothing important to see here. But suddenly there are hundreds of souls where he could only see three. And it’s not like they were hiding or something, there is nowhere to go except forward. But Joe freaks out because he’s dead, right after he finally gets the chance to pursue his dream.
Naturally, he runs into the crowd of people and goes deeper into it. All of the other souls have accepted their fate and are willingly moving into the light. In a literal sense, he is running from his death, even though he is already dead. He doesn’t want to accept it. It’s kind of metaphorical in a way: you can’t run away from all of your problems, especially death.
Somehow he hits a barrier, passes through it, and after falling through the time-space continuum, we’re in this little pastel world. There are little souls running up to him and a weird 2D figure named Jerry that looks like a mother herding them all together. This new area is called The Great Before, or, what they call, the You Seminar (because of rebranding).
Then suddenly young souls are being sent off in groups to get certain traits. (Here they make a statement about sending too many towards being self-absorbed, haha). A huge hole with a view of Earth can be seen in the middle of this world. Souls are free-falling to what will surely be a fulfilling life. Joe jumps in with the hopes of going back to his body but gets sent back to where he started. He goes through several attempts to get back into his body as if things would be different if he just kept trying.
We then reunite with Jerry, the universal soul person, and they seem to believe that Joe is a lost mentor. When he seems hesitant about accepting this role, Jerry tells him he could always go back and die.
Back to the Great Beyond, two figures who were counting souls freak out because a soul was missing, which hasn’t happened in centuries. While they’re panicking, our protagonist is put into a room with a projector that is showing the mentors what their goal is. The mentors have to help their assigned soul complete their Earth badges so the soul can go to Earth.
Joe gets the honor of being paired with Soul 22. Seemingly uninterested in completing her badge and going to Earth, Soul 22 shows that she is difficult, doesn’t really care, and tells Joe upfront that thousands of people had tried to help her but failed. Of course, Joe will be different, because it’s a Disney movie. Soul 22 doesn’t believe that Joe isn’t a mentor until he manages to show her his life. Now we get a visual of him being introduced to jazz, yay. It’s mostly a collage of his failures to land a good-paying musical job. At the very end, it shows him in a hospital bed.
Soul 22 tries to give him her badge and it comes back. Extremely excessive attempts to get rid of her badge are shown. This gives me “Finding Dory” vibes, like when Dory was going to give her tag to Hank so he could leave the aquarium. Joe and Soul 22 make a deal that he will get the badge after he helps Soul 22 to complete it.
We are shown a city where the souls can explore different hobbies to finish their badges within an unexplained time limit. Nothing works and the time runs out. They manage to convince Jerry to give them another minute to try out one more thing.
The two run into a little room that no one else knows about. Name tags of all the mentors who have failed are on the wall, fantastic. And now we’re in a huge dark area with monsters that attack them. Joe and Soul 22 get saved after a monster almost got to them. Luckily, it’s by the guy they were looking for so they can get Joe back into his body. So this dude sails in on a brightly colored pirate ship with peace symbols and lets them on board before explaining to Joe that the monsters, or lost souls, are people’s souls overcome with anxiety.
One of the main things that bothered me about this movie was that most of these anxious souls weren’t helped. Only two souls were freed from anxiety during the movie but it was clear that there were dozens more. Everyone has their own goals and motives, but this makes the souls on the ship seem selfish.
From there, the group does a sort of ritual. Joe doesn’t wait long enough for it to be complete and ends up accidentally dragging Soul 22 into the real world. Soul 22 ends up in Joe’s body while he is stuck in a cat. Both begin to freak out when a nurse walks into the room. Soul 22 makes Joe look slightly crazy since she is talking to a cat. Somehow they get down the hall and to the elevator with only one minor issue. Soul 2 somehow managed to never pass the motor functions test, so she can’t control his body properly. They make it outside and into the crowded New York City streets. Everything is chaotic and the two even get separated for a short time before Soul 22 decides she wants to not move until Joe’s body dies. Then Joe, as a cat, finds and brings her pizza. When she eats it everything in her mind sort of explodes into color. Suddenly everything isn’t so terrible. After walking for a bit they, coincidently run into the person they were looking for. They have a quick conversation before being shooed away from him. This is New York City, who in their right mind is going to turn away a potential customer?
Soul 22 hails a cab, runs into Dorthea, gets shoved into the car by Joe and no one notices except for three people. Once getting back to his apartment, Joe tries to answer his phone and fails. There are a few “comedic” moments, including the failed phone call and the stereotypical cat being lazy and sleeping in the sun. He then gets a voicemail saying that he lost the spot unless he gets to the club before the other guy they got to fill the position does.
Connie knocks on the door to say that she is quitting band, and Joe doesn’t bat an eye, too focused on returning to his body. Soul 22 goes out, talks with her, and manages to get Connie to continue playing. Joe and Soul 22 talk after that and Soul 22 says that she liked the music. He completely brushes this off as “of course you like it, you’re in my body.” Then there’s a few clips of Soul 22 getting Joe’s body ready for the show later that day. I would say it’s a miracle that they still have the chance to make it, but it’s a movie so we all knew it was going to be that way.
Soul 22 gets into a suit and Joe, somehow thinking it was a good idea to do it himself, takes an electric clipper and tries to give himself a haircut. His paws manage to pick the clipper up, but his body is shaking the entire time. The shock of the century comes when the clippers fly out of his paws and cut off a patch of hair in the middle of Joe’s head. He freaks out and demands that Soul 22 go to the barbershop to get his hair fixed.
Flash forward to when we are at the barbershop and Soul 22 takes off her hat. Everyone gasps and she is immediately told to sit down. Soul 22 chats with the barber about his life and he tells more to her than he did with Joe. Before we walked into the shop, Joe said they mainly talked about jazz. Looking at the conversation between Soul 22 and the barber, it seems that Joe is pretty self-absorbed. He never bothered having a real conversation with the barber.
The two walk down the street and the fact that no one pays the two any attention, especially since it’s a man acting strangely and talking to a cat, is incredible. Soul 22 drops something and goes to pick it up in a way that only happens in movies. His pants split and suddenly everyone is looking at them. They get to the shop owned by Joe’s mom and ask her to fix the suit. She says no and they have this long, meaningful talk about his future and what he wants to do with his lie that no one cares about. She pulls out a box with his dad’s old suit and says the iconic line of saving something for the child after a parent died and waiting for a certain time.
Right after they leave the shop, Soul 22 tells Joe that she doesn’t want to go back to living as a soul. Joe got angry at Soul 22, talking over her and claiming that she ruined the whole show. All Soul 22 wanted to do was stay on Earth and find her purpose. They wind up back at The Great Before, Soul 22 has her badge completed and it’s Joe’s time to die. Jerry allows Joe to go and say goodbye to Soul 22 before she goes to Earth. They argue back and forth, Joe saying that the only reason she completed her badge was through his experiences. He goes as far to say that she hated everything until she was in his body. She throws him the completed badge and disappears.
Joe wakes up in his body and runs to get to the show on time. By some sort of movie magic, he makes it to the club. He chats quickly with Dorthea and then goes out onto the stage and plays with the rest of the quartet. They continue for a couple of hours before leaving. Joe asks Dorthea if this is what it’s like all the time. He finally got what he wanted, but it didn’t make him as happy as he thought it would.
While working as a teacher, he has the chance to help others find something that they love. This could still be accomplished by staying with the quartet, but directly teaching it to students is something that could be beneficial. It’s like using a drug. You get the high of it in the moment, but it fades away. Eventually, the adrenaline rush will wear off and it will seem like a chore.
Joe goes back to the Great Beyond to look for Soul 22. We then learn from the boat captain that she has turned into a lost soul. He spots her immediately, they chase after her and throw a net around her. Somehow she drags the entire boat. She makes it into the outside world of the Great Before and starts causing chaos. Joe helps her and they both get to go back to earth. And that’s the last we see of them. Slightly annoying.
Overall I thought it was a decent movie with a good message. It did feel a bit like “Inside Out”. The romance plot they tried to squeeze in early in the movie could’ve been done better. I thought the movie could have been more interesting if Soul 22 ended up being Joe’s daughter or something along those lines. We never even get to see Soul 22 again or how Joe continued on with his life.