Is an unfulfilled life worth living? What awaits us after death? The questions posed by Pixar’s latest aren’t your average starting point for an animation. The story follows Joe (Jamie Foxx), a music teacher who dreams of becoming a jazz pianist, until an accident untethers his soul from his body. The opportunity of a lifetime will pass him by unless he can convince a grumpy lost soul (Tina Fey) that life is worth living.
Even as the race-against-time device begins to feel laboured, the world of the movie sparkles. The title is a clever double entendre for the ascension to the spiritual realm and the warmth associated with Black culture. Playwright Kemp Powers co-directs and co-writes (with Pete Docter) and his influence is keenly felt: from the glisten of black skin, to the texture of an afro and the authenticity of the conversations in a barbershop. None of it is forced, testament to the involvement of people with real lived experience.
If anything, Soul is guilty of over-ambition. The wizardry and wit is there, but it lacks Pixar’s usual deftness in making complex themes sing for youngsters. Mixing heart and existential angst, it’ll connect more with Joe’s generation than little ones. It’s smart and, yes, soulful but it never quite takes flight.