Rated PG, 90 minutes
The charming, fun new Pixar dramedy "Soul" muses on our soul's existence and pre-existence, hoping to provide insight into the human experience. From Oscar-winner Pete Docter, of "Up" and "Inside Out," it strikes some similar chords as those films, but in the end, it has generous helpings of soul and heart.
Joe (Oscar-winner Jamie Foxx) is a middle-school band teacher whose life hasn't quite gone the way he expected. His true passion is jazz -- and he's good. However, an untimely accident causes Gardner's soul to be separated from his body and he travels to another realm where discovers souls must develop before being sent to Earth. Gardner must work with "souls in training," namely 22 (Emmy-winner Tina Fey) a soul with a dim view on the concept of life, in order to return to Earth before his body dies.
The energetic, colorful "Soul" is an interesting take on life and finding your purpose, though it's something we've seen before. Directed and co-written by Docter along with Mike Jones ("Luca") and Kemp Powers (writer of the current "One Night in Miami"), it feels familiar, essentially a jazzy "Freaky Friday" infused with parts "Inside Out" and TV's "The Good Place."
The meaning of life is a heady choice for Pixar, but "Soul" handles it well, and is best when it doesn't quite take itself too seriously, striking balance between the zany and thought-provoking. It's grounded well by the nimble team of Foxx and Fey, who bring fun to proceedings when their bodies are temporarily switched on Earth, though there's a big purpose in doing so. Like some of Pixar's efforts, the film's deeper meanings will go over the head of the young set it's intended for (particularly in its sentimental final act), and maybe even some adults not paying attention.
"Soul" isn't on the same level emotionally as Docter's previous efforts - the prologue of "Up" elicits tears in its first few minutes - while the stirring finale of "Inside Out" does the same in its last few. Still, there's lots to appreciate here: the jazzy score from Oscar-winners Atticus Ross and Trent Reznor ("The Social Network" and of the hard rock group Nine Inch Nails) keeps the film moving along, and it's rounded out by a solid supporting cast: Phylicia Rashad, Daveed Diggs, Angela Bassett and Graham Norton, all who make memorable voice work.
"Soul" is really about finding your purpose and spark, so you can truly appreciate what life has to offer. While not Earth-shattering, it's still a colorful, touching look at the appreciation of life, which is something to be valued in our current pandemic state. Add "Soul" to your list of must-see films this holiday season, and don't be surprised if you see it again come awards season.