I’m not a fan of Disney’s Premiere Access model they tried out with their lackluster live action “Mulan” remake, that they will also use for “Raya and the Last Dragon,” in which viewers can watch what would have otherwise been exclusive theatrical releases for $30 on top of a Disney Plus subscription for a limited time. I understand why they have it — with COVID-19 still strangling theaters, Disney needs to get its money back somehow, but a whopping $30 price tag (about $38 for non-Disney Plus subscribers) is a bit much, especially considering most people’s home entertainment setup pales in comparison to the theater experience.
However, there is one film I would have been completely OK paying that hefty price tag for: Pixar’s “Soul.”
Released on Disney Plus for no additional cost on Christmas, “Soul” follows Jazz Pianists/Music Teacher Joe Gardner (Jamie Foxx), who faces a dilemma, as he is offered a full-time position as a teacher the same day he lands an important gig with esteemed jazz musician Dorothea Williams (Angela Bassett). Split on taking the teaching position, Joe excitedly pursues the gig and tries to keep it a secret from his mother, Libba (Phylicia Rashad), who is against Joe wasting his time on a career that doesn’t pay the bills, as his father pursued a similar life, and often relied on her financially.
In his excitement, Joe falls down a manhole, and his soul is transported into some kind of purgatory run by entities all named Jerry (except for a soul counter named Terry [Rachel House]), where it’s meant to go to the “Great Beyond.” Not wanting to die, he flees, and breaks into an area of the world called the You Seminar, in which new souls find out who they are, after which they are free to go to Earth to live their lives. Joe ends up accidentally mentoring the most problematic soul there, 22 (Tina Fey), who for thousands of years has refused to be born, out of fear that they won’t be good enough. After some hijinks, they make it back to Earth, but Joe’s soul finds itself in the body of a cat, and 22 ends up in Joe’s body. They have to set everything right before Terry catches them, and sends Joe back to the Great Beyond.
“Soul” serves as yet another reminder why Pixar is a top-tier animation studio. “Soul” is easily one of Pixar’s most visually creative and stunning films, and I definitely felt like I was missing something watching this on my home TV as opposed to in the theater. When theaters open and it’s safe to go to them, I hope they play “Soul.” I’d even see this in 3D, if showings become available, just because I feel like this film would look fantastic in it.
And it backs up its visuals with perhaps the strongest themes of any Pixar movie, tackling questions of self and fulfilment, and purpose, as well as what makes life worth living and what it takes to be happy and content with yourself. These are heavy themes that will go over most kids’ heads, but the writing is so strong in this film, it might make adults and teens alike cry. I feel like its message of being content with yourself and how traditional measures of success like fame and money won’t make you happy are particularly relevant for teenagers, who have grown up with both the boon and curse of technology, that have added many more metrics by which they can find themselves feeling not good enough.
“Soul” is more than 10 times better than “Mulan” 2020 and is frankly the best original film they’ve released on Disney Plus. It’s a film I would have happily supported had it released on Premier Access, and I want Pixar to make more films that cut this deep. I expect this to win Best Animated Picture by a landslide.
While I hesitate to call “Soul” Pixar’s best film — there’s too many good ones contending for that spot — I do think it’s fair to say it’s one of their best. It was the best Christmas present Disney could have given us.
“Soul” gets a 9/10