SOUL

Almost everyone has a favorite Disney/Pixar film that is indelibly etched on their heart. From the Toy Story films to Finding Nemo, from Wall-E to Up; Pixar has a laundry list of hits that aren’t just moneymaking cash cows, but sure-fire classics that demand repeat viewings by subsequent generations. Pixar doesn’t just hit you with seamless animation, they find a way to sneak in heavy-handed adult themes that always seem to evoke emotion in just the right way.

Which brings us to Soul, Pixar’s latest entry in “almost” flawless filmography. (Sorry, you can keep the entire Cars franchise). Soul tells the story of a middle-aged, middle school band teacher named Joe Gardner (Jamie Foxx). Joe is an aspiring musician who, moments after securing his dream gig with a popular jazz band, accidentally falls down a manhole and dies. Joe wakes up on an escalator to heaven surrounded by vast emptiness. Like everyone else in line, Joe is headed to “The Great Beyond,” where he will be gone forever. Refusing to accept his fate, Joe heads in the opposite direction and plunges to “The Great Before,” a land where souls are handpicked before being sent to Earth. It is here that Joe is mistaken for a renowned child psychologist and assigned to mentor 22 (Tina Fey), a troubled soul that lacks her “spark,” which enables her to be born on Earth. 22 doesn’t want to leave, so she agrees to take Joe back down to Earth and if he can help her find her spark, he can return in her place and she can stay in “The Great Before.”

While it may sound complicated, director Pete Doctor (Up, Toy Story, and Inside Out) exceptionally straddles a fine line between the hustle and bustle of New York City and the echoing endlessness in “The Great Beyond.” New York has never looked so beautiful and the afterlife has never looked so lonely. Soul effortlessly switches gears between being a charming children’s comedy and an introspective/metaphysical drama about untapped potential, second chances, and the power of resiliency. By giving us a glimpse of a life less lived, Pixar hasn’t just tugged on our heartstrings, they have effectively ripped them to shreds. There is a little bit of Joe Gardner in all of us.

By SCOTT PETERSON
cinesportstalk.com @CineSportsTalk