Review – SOUL or…how Joel Gardner Got His Groove Back

It’s always a treat when a new Disney-Pixar movie gets released and I am a fan of these movies as much as the next person, but the wait to see the latest title SOUL was a VERY long one, after being repeatedly delayed thanks to the pandemic, Disney decided to release the movie on their Disney+ streaming service instead, giving audiences a chance to finally watch it instead of waiting even longer to get it into theaters.

While part of me wanted to wait it out and see this with an audience, thinking that the wait could even be another six months to a year, I am glad I finally get to check it out. And Immediately after screening SOUL, my mind came flooding back to INSIDE OUT, one of my all time favourite movies, my favourite of that year, and one that I saw way too many times in theatres. In fact, I even put INSIDE OUT on right after I screened SOUL, just as a reminder of the power of the animated medium. The new Disney-Pixar feature is from filmmaker Pete Doctor who is the same creator, which comes as no surprise as this has a lot of the same heart-felt themes throughout. With INSIDE OUT, he got right into our minds and the mechanics behind them. With SOUL, he gets right into that instinctive fear of where we go after we die. 

Joe Gardner (voiced by Jamie Foxx, although you really can’t recognize his voice here) is a school music teacher who, as the movie opens, is just being offered a full time job and at the same time, offered a possible huge music job with famed jazz performer Dorothea Williams. Teaching is NOT his dream but is encouraged by his Right at the moment where Joe has everything together, he slips through a manhole and dies…or at first we THINK he does. Instead of going to The Great Beyond, Joe winds up in The Great Before, mistakenly being taken as a mentor. He winds up being assigned to #22 (voiced by Tina Fey, again not picking up in her voice, reminding me that we don’t really NEED A-list names to voice characters anymore) who seems to have trouble connecting with anyone. 

There’s a LOT more that I want to talk about here, but I feel I have given away too much already and to say it gets even better as it goes along is an understatement. I was genuinely involved in SOUL and how it uses unique ways of telling its story that jumps between reality and fantasy, showing that area just in between. But even in its grand moments, I loved the little visual nods like when Joe learns important life lessons through small character moments. Even an early sequence, where Joe begins playing the piano for Dorothea and the whole world around him seems to disappear, is a reminder of the way that animation gets into the heart of its characters.

It nearly comes as no surprise that SOUL is a wonderful experience. But what is truly great is how it takes big chances with its themes, gets away with a lot of them and will mean many things to different age groups. I always want to encourage the fact that a movie like SOUL is for EVERYONE, even for people who don’t seem to care for animated movies (you can tell when people refer to these as “cartoons”) and think they are lesser. SOUL is anything but. 

Rating: **** out of ****

SOUL begins streaming today on Disney+ in North America; this movie was originally supposed to open this fall but because of the COVID pandemic, it’s now streaming on the service at no additional cost to subscribers. Many thanks to Disney PR for sending along an advance copy for review. 

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