Joe Gardner (voiced by Jamie Foxx) is the main character in Pixar’s Soul, releasing today (December 25, 2020), and is easily one of the most focused, yet lost characters in Pixar’s catalog. You may already know the basics about Joe — he’s a middle-school band teacher who’s obsession to “make it” as a jazz musician has caused him to throw everything else by the wayside. While the film’s core is about living your life to the fullest by pursuing your passions, it’s also about balance and how focusing too much on one thing can also be a burden.
This is how Joe finds himself teetering between the human world and the soul world, and the interplay between them is brilliant. First off, we love the world-building in this film. We start in a fantastically accurate feeling New York, but quickly find ourselves in the black-saturated mixture of “The Great Before,” “The Great Beyond,” and “Astral Planes,” among other locations. Each world, each place, feels either familiar or so artistically unique, we couldn’t help but be slightly awestruck.
Moving between these worlds as a viewer could seem complicated as Joe moves between locations, but thanks to the mystic character, Moonwind (voiced by Graham Norton), he guides Joe (and, ultimately the viewer) through the lands perfectly.
So, those are our high-level thoughts, but let’s talk about some specific areas that stood out to us.
I’ve always loved the character designs in Ratatouille — I love how unique the designs are, and how they were crafted with marionettes in mind (the original director, Jan Pinkava utilized puppets for early inspiration) — the kitchen staff at Gusteau’s are specifically the characters I’m thinking of. So, why talk about my love of Ratatouille characters in a Soul review? Because I believe that the character designs are as good as Ratatouille.
For the human world, some of the characters that really stood out to us were Joe Gardner (not surprisingly), but also his Mother, Libba, and the full cast of characters in the Barber Shop. It’s kind of like the kitchen at Gusteaus — a range of styles, a range of ages, a range of emotions built into them. Really, pay attention to the designs, they’re stunning.
In addition to the human characters, the Counselors (all named Jerry) and the Accountant (Terry) are jaw-dropping in their 2-dimensional design. You have to see their characters to believe how they move on screen — they are unbelievable and although they could be viewed as simple, they are certainly not. Watch how they move through objects, bend, and twist — it’s actually sort of beautiful to watch them move.
Of course, a great character design is one thing, but bringing that character to life through their voice is also another element that makes the design seem true-to-life. To that end, the vocal cast is not only one of Pixar’s most international, but it’s also another highlight in Pixar’s long catalog of brilliant vocal castings. Standouts in our minds were Jamie Foxx (Joe Gardner), Libba Gardner (Phylicia Rashad), the Jerry’s (Alice Braga, Richard Ayoade, Wes Studi, Fortune Feimster, and Zenobia Shroff), and Terry (Rachel House).
The entire Jerry and Terry cast is unforgettable. That’s not to say that the list stops there — there is no one that feels out of place in the film vocally.
The film will entertain kids and adults, as we’ve come to expect from Pixar films. There will be plenty of jokes which will go over the heads of younger viewers such as a reference to Drakkar Noir cologne (hilarious) or historical figures such as Copernicus but will have adults rolling because they’ll get the undertones of the jokes. This isn’t to say kids won’t connect with Soul though — heck, in the first Toy Story, kids didn’t necessarily get the joke Mr. Potato Head says to Hamm when he proclaims, “Hey look, I’m Picasso!”
I think younger kids will really connect with the soul characters (specifically during the “You Seminar”) and any of the amazing comedic moments with 22, Joe Gardner, and Mr. Mittens — there are some really hilarious, well-written gags and comedy throughout.
The film is officially rated PG, so most parents can feel safe showing the film to most children. I’m confident our six-year-old would really enjoy this film. There is one scene with some ominous-looking characters (lost souls) who have scary voices and tentacle-like arms which chase the main characters. The scene is ultimately short-lived (less than a minute) and quickly follows with a humorous moment and calming resolution which helps the lost souls shed their scary exterior. This would potentially only affect the youngest viewers on average and you’ll have to gauge your child’s individual comfort level.
I could go on and on about the music from this film — it’s essential to the plot and delivers on every level. We wrote a separate post about the soundtrack for Soul and how the jazz world (composed by Jon Batiste) and the soul world (composed by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross) contrast perfectly. I cannot say enough good things about the score and hope it’s a contender during awards season — that’s how artistic and creative I believe it is. It’s uplifting, dark, sweet, poignant, and so much more.
FULL REVIEW AND LIVE STREAM
We want to hear your thoughts on Soul as well! We’ll be sharing a more in-depth review of Soul during a live stream event in the coming week, so stay tuned for that announcement. We’ll discuss more spoilers, Easter Eggs, and specifics from the film during the event, so leave a comment below or chat about the film with other Pixar fans in the Pixar Post Forum.
UPDATED — We held our live-stream review with some guests, you can watch the video on our YouTube page or embedded below.