- “Everybody has a soul. Joe Gardner is about to find his.”
Soul is a 2020 computer-animated fantasy comedy-drama film produced by Pixar Animation Studios for Walt Disney Pictures and distributed by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures. The film was directed by Pete Docter, co-directed by Kemp Powers, and produced by Dana Murray as Pixar's 23rd feature film. Originally intended to be shown in theaters, the film's release has been delayed multiple times as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and instead was released on December 25, 2020 on Disney+.
Joe Gardner is a middle school band teacher with a love for jazz music. After a successful gig at the Half Note Club, he suddenly gets into an accident that separates his soul from his body and is transported to The Great Before, the place where all souls go before being either reincarnated as newborn babies, or transported to the Great Beyond. Joe must enlist help from the other souls-in-training, like 22, a soul who has spent eons in the You Seminar, in order to get back to the Land of the Living before he dies, while also avoiding a soul-counter named Terry, who tries to bring Joe back to the Great Before.
Joe Gardner is a middle school band instructor. Despite his job entailing the handling of rowdy students, he expresses his passion for music and jazz with his excellent skills on the piano. He is offered a full time position at the school which concerns him as he wants to become a full time musician. His mother, Libba, wants him to accept as it would keep him financially secure. By chance, his friend Curly reveals that jazz musician Dorothea Williams is holding open auditions for a piano player at the Half Note Club. Joe arrives and plays the piano beautifully to the point that Dorothea offers him the job on the spot. As Joe happily heads off to prepare for tonight's performance, he accidentally falls down a manhole.
Joe finds himself as a soul heading into the Great Beyond. Not wanting to die just yet, he escapes the conveyer-like pathway and instead finds himself in the "Great Before" where soul counselors, all named Jerry, set up young souls for life on earth. Joe poses as an instructor who is set to train the souls and is given 22, a soul who has remained in the Great Before for many years. 22 does not like earth and finds it pointless and purposefully badgers her past instructors to leave her alone. Joe reveals to 22 the real reason why he is here and looks at his life up to the point he supposedly died. He realizes that he has not done much with his life, which gives him more incentive to return. 22 reveals that she has a badge that fills up with traits. She needs to find her "spark" to complete it and says she will give it to Joe so that he can return home.
Joe tries to get 22 to find something to be passionate about, but nothing works. With no other options, she takes him out to "the zone" an area that people enter when their passion sets them into a euphoric trance. It also houses the lost souls who become obsessed with minor things. They meet Moonwind, a sign twirler who enters the zone to rescue lost souls. He agrees to help Joe return to his body, and they learn that he has fallen into a coma and is on life support. Joe excitedly hops back to earth, but accidentally brings 22 with him, resulting in 22 entering his body and Joe ending up in the body of a therapy cat. Meanwhile, Terry, an accountant in the Great Before, realizes the souls to the Great Beyond are miscounted and learns quickly that Joe is missing and convinces the Jerrys to let her go look for him to bring him back.
22 and Joe escape the hospital, and the former is frightened by the sights and sounds. Joe qualms her by giving her a pizza, allowing her to enjoy something for the first time. They run into Moonwind, who tells them that he can attempt to swap their bodies back, but after he is off work at 6:30, cutting it close to Joe's show at 7:00. They head to Joe's apartment where Connie, one of Joe's students, arrives to tell him that she is quitting band. However, 22 listens to her trombone playing and she changes her mind, perplexing her. They next go to get a haircut where 22 holds a conversation with Dez the barber, and the two of them hold a very poignant conversation with each other. After 22 rips Joe's pants, they go to see Libba to have it fixed and "Joe" finally has a serious talk with her about his passion resulting in Libba giving Joe his father's old suit.
Outside the club, 22 has an epiphany about many of the things she has experienced and decides she wants to live. Not wanting to switch back, she runs and Joe gives chase. Terry catches up and removes them from their bodies and back to the Great Before where 22 sees that her badge has been filled out. However, Joe tells her that she was using his experiences and that it does not matter. Angry, she tosses the badge at him and disappears to the zone. Joe learns from a Jerry that a "spark" and "purpose" are not the same thing, and he heads back to earth where he makes it to the club on time. After playing for the night, Joe does not feel right about what happened and heads back home. Changed by 22's experience, Joe enters the zone and reunites with Moonwind to search for 22 who has become a lost soul. Joe chases 22 back to the Great Before and tries to give her her badge back, but ends up getting eaten by her.
Inside the corrupted body, 22 feels hopeless and broken about her purpose, with Joe trying to make her feel better, only to be stopped by the negative comments 22 was told (including his own). Taking a small petal that caught 22's attention before, Joe gives it to her and she returns to normal. With her badge back, Joe rides with her as far as he can as 22 finally enters Earth. Joe is prepared to head into the Great Beyond, but is stopped by a Jerry who tells him that he has inspired them and will give him another chance at life (as well as reveal that they distracted Terry from her counting so that she doesn't encounter the same situation as before). Joe thanks them and returns to the living, now with the intent to live his life to the fullest.
In a post-credits scene, Terry tells the audience that the movie is over and orders them to go home.
- Jamie Foxx as Joe Gardner/Mr. Mittens
- Ramone Hamilton as Young Joe Gardner
- Tina Fey as 22/Joe Gardner
- Graham Norton as Moonwind
- Rachel House as Terry
- Alice Braga as a Jerry
- Richard Ayoade as a Jerry
- Phylicia Rashad as Libba Gardner
- Donnell Rawlings as Dez
- Ahmir-Khalib Thompson "Questlove" as Curley Baker
- Angela Bassett as Dorothea Williams
- Daveed Diggs as Paul
- Cora Champommier as Connie
- Wes Studi as a Jerry
- Fortune Feimster as a Jerry
- Zenobia Shroff as a Jerry
- Margo Hall as Melba
- Rhodessa Jones as Lulu
- June Squibb as Gerel
- Sakina Jeffrey as Doctor
- Calum Grant as Hedge Fund Manager
- Laura Mooney as Therapy Cat Lady
- Catherine Cavadini as Dreamerwind
- Ronnie Del Carmen as Windstar
- Esther K. Chae as Miho
- Marcus Shelby as Ray Gardner
- Peggy Flood as Marge
- Dorian Lockett as Dorian
- Ochuwa Oghie as Dancestar
- Jeannie Tirado as Principal Arroyo
- Doris Burke as Basketball Announcer
- Elisapie Isaac as Miali
In January 2016, it was announced that Pete Docter, head of Pixar, was working on a new film which he planned to complete despite his appointment as Chief Creative Officer at the company after John Lasseter's departure. In June 2019, Pixar announced the film with Docter directing and Dana Murray producing, with a synopsis released on Twitter about a cosmic journey through New York City.
- Main article: Soul (soundtrack)
During the 2019 D23 Expo, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross were revealed to be composing the film's score with Jon Batiste writing jazz songs for the film. Soul is the first Pixar film directed by Docter since Monsters, Inc. (2001) not to be scored by Michael Giacchino (Monsters, Inc. was composed by Randy Newman). Batiste composed jazz music for the film's New York City sequences, while Reznor and Ross wrote an instrumental score for the scenes taking place in "The Great Before". Batiste said that he wanted to create jazz music that felt "authentic", but also "accessible to all ages" and make the themes tie into the "ethereal nature" of "The Great Before" while still being on Earth. Batiste also sometimes worked with Reznor and Ross to "blend the two worlds, musically". Cody Chesnutt also wrote, produced, and performed an original song for the film, titled "Parting Ways". Batiste also arranged a new version of the song "It's All Right", originally performed by the Impressions, for the film. Featured in the end credits, the song is performed as a duet between Batiste and British soul singer Celeste. On December 18, the entire soundtrack and score was made available through three separate albums, two of which are exclusively on vinyl. Released as the first single, "It's All Right" was featured on both the Soul Original Motion Picture Soundtrack and Music From and Inspired by Soul vinyl album.
Soul was originally scheduled for theatrical release in the United States on June 19, 2020, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it was delayed to November 20, 2020. This slot replaced Disney Animation's film Raya and the Last Dragon, whose release was delayed to March 5, 2021. On June 3, 2020, Soul was selected as part of the line-up for the 2020 Cannes Film Festival. On September 8, 2020, it was announced that the film would have its world premiere at the BFI London Film Festival on October 11, 2020.
On September 15, 2020, Variety reported that Disney was considering the cancellation of the film's theatrical release replacing it with a premiere of the film on Disney+, though a Disney insider disputed the claim. On September 17, Soul was selected as part of the line-up for the Rome Film Festival, as the opening film on October 15, 2020. On September 23, amid a shuffle of release date changes from Disney, the studio announced that the film will stay theatrical on November 20. However, on October 8, 2020, Disney announced that the film's theatrical release had been cancelled altogether and it would premiere exclusively on Disney+ on December 25, 2020, making it the first Pixar film not to have a wide theatrical release. The film will have a traditional theatrical release in countries without Disney+ where theaters have re-opened. Unlike Mulan, the film will not be released as a "premiere access" release, and will be free for all subscribers.
A new 2D animated short film from Pixar's "SparkShorts" titled Burrow was initially announced to appear before the film had it premiered theatrically. On October 9, 2020, it was announced the short would also premiere on Disney+. That same day, it was announced that Soul would be the subject of a documentary chronicling Pixar's attempts to finish making the film during the pandemic. The completed featurette, entitled "Soul, Improvised", shows how the Pixar Systems team and the film's crew managed to finished production on schedule during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, and was released as an "extra" on Disney+ alongside the film's debut.
- Main article: Soul (video)
On February 2, 2021, it was announced that Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment would release Soul on DVD, Blu-ray, Ultra HD Blu-ray, and Digital on March 23, 2021 in the US becoming the first Disney+ Original to receive a physical release. It will be released in the UK on March 29.
On the review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes, Soul has an approval rating of 95% based on 330 reviews, with an average rating of 8.40/10. The site's critics consensus states, "A film as beautiful to contemplate as it is to behold, Soul proves Pixar's power to deliver outstanding all-ages entertainment remains undimmed." According to Metacritic, which compiled 55 reviews and calculated an average score of 83 out of 100, the film received "universal acclaim".
Joe Utichi of Deadline Hollywood called the film "a concrete return to the Pixar of old, full of grand ideas and original execution, and a statement of intent for Docter's steering of the Pixar ship away from endless sequels and back to inventive originals. It remains a film with a deeply emotional core that feels like it comes from a place of genuine curiosity. In short, it has soul." Kaleem Aftab of IndieWire gave the film an A–, calling it a "captivating journey" and writing "Like some of the best jazz compositions, it uses a traditional framework to veer off in many unexpected directions, so that even the inevitable end point feels just right." A. O. Scott of The New York Times wrote that Soul is "a small, delicate movie that doesn't hit every note perfectly, but its combination of skill, feeling and inspiration is summed up in the title". In his review for Variety, Peter Debruge felt the film's message was too adult for child audiences, but conclusively decided it "all blends together beautifully, a marriage of Pixar's square, safe, feel-good sensibility with what could be described as the "real world" — and one that, much as Inside Out anthropomorphized the mind, will leave audiences young and old imagining their own souls as glowing idiosyncratic cartoon characters."
Leslie Felperin of The Hollywood Reporter called the film "peak Pixar" and "miles ahead and sublime in every sense", and praised the soundtrack. Jason Solomons of TheWrap said the film "aims admirably high, yet ultimately can't quite fulfill the scale of its ambitions" but "it pops with colorful visuals and gentle wisdom while the story clips along despite the dizzying height of the concept." Peter Travers, reviewing for ABC News, praised the visuals as "breathtaking" and the musical score as "sublime" crediting Jon Batiste for "those jazz improvs, and to Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, who scored the electronic bleeps of the spiritual realm."
Reviews were not uniformly positive. Adonis Fryer of the Ohio student newspaper The Post Athens concluded that "beautiful animation, strong voice acting, charming writing and easy-to-digest existential philosophy make Soul a compelling watch but does not make up for Disney’s inability to truly center a black hero with agency." Molly Freeman of ScreenRant acknowledged the film's "message about the meaning of life and finding purpose, but it's messy and only made muddier by the questions the movie sets up then fails to answer. The result is Soul loses much of its emotional impact, with the third act playing out more like a rush to the finish line of the story without giving as much weight to the themes and emotional throughline of the film." Charles Pulliam-Moore of Gizmodo stated that the film "comes across less like an earnest and casual celebration of everyday Blackness, and more like a twee depiction of it that’s meant for white audiences’ consumption."
The film won the 2021 Golden Globe for Best Animated Feature and Best Original Score. It was also nominated in three categories, including for Best Animated Feature, at the 93rd Academy Awards and 74th British Academy Film Awards. The film has 10 Annie Award nominations, including Best Feature and Best Direction for Pete Docter and Kemp Powers.
It was named as one of the top 10 movies in the American Film Institute Awards.
- This is the seventh Disney+ movie that was originally intended as a theatrical release, after Noelle, Artemis Fowl, Hamilton, Magic Camp, The One and Only Ivan, and Mulan.
- Thus, it is also Disney's second theatrically-produced film to be preceded by the Disney+ Original logo after Noelle, due to being released as a Disney+ original film.
- This was the first Pixar film to have an African-American as the leading character as opposed to a supporting/secondary role for their previous films.
- This was Pete Docter's first Pixar movie to be produced in the 2.39:1 "scope" aspect ratio, unlike his previous films: Monsters, Inc. (2001), Up (2009), and Inside Out (2015), which were produced in the taller 1.85:1 ratio.
- This is the third time that Pixar has released a second film in the same year, after 2015's Inside Out and The Good Dinosaur and 2017's Cars 3 and Coco.
- This was the first film to have Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross from Nine Inch Nails compose music for a Pixar film while this was the second film to be a musical with Jon Batiste providing the songs, the first being Coco.
- This is the first Pixar film directed by Pete Docter not to be scored by Michael Giacchino since 2001's Monsters, Inc., which was done by Randy Newman.
- Tina Fey frequently collaborates with Amy Poehler, who voiced Joy in Inside Out, which was also directed by Pete Docter.
- The Chinese take-out box that appeared on the stock marker's desk is the same one that appeared in previous Pixar films like A Bug's Life, Ratatouille, and Inside Out.
- A broccoli pizza from Inside Out appeared among the pizzas when Joe tries to show 22 the joys of life.
- Coincidentally this is Pixar's 23rd feature and, according to Pete Docter, the story was born out of the fact that even his now 23-year-old son had personality even as a baby.
- On Season 29 of Dancing with the Stars, rapper Nelly and his pro dance partner, Daniella Karagach, danced to the song "It's All Right" from Soul for that season's Disney-themed night. This was on September 28, 2020, three months before Soul was released.
- This is the first full-length Pixar film to not be released in theaters, but is instead to be released exclusively on Disney+.
- Thus, it is also the second animated film to be released straight to digital instead of having a theatrical release in the United States following the COVID-19 pandemic; the first being Warner Animation Group's Scoob! and the next being Paramount Animation/Nickelodeon Movies' The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run (which had a theatrical release in Canada, though, and was already released on Netflix internationally as the second animated film to do so in international countries).
- This is Pixar's first film to be released on Disney+, not counting Onward, which was released in theaters, but moved to Disney+ a few weeks after its theatrical run.
- Excluding international releases, this is Pixar's first feature-film to be released in December.
- Among 22's mentors througth the decades seen in her box are Disney Legend Jack Kirby, late Pixar employee Joe Ranft, and Frank Oz's father Mike Oznowicz, who inspired the name for Monsters, Inc. character Mike Wazowski.
- This is the second Pixar film to have a post-credits scene play after the production logos instead of before.
- In an ironic sense, the post-credits scene has Terry telling the audience that the film is over and orders them to go home, and considering that this film was released onto streaming because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the audience would be technically already home.
- This movie is similar to Spies in Disguise: both are from a branch of Disney (Pixar and Blue Sky Studios), both are released on Christmas, both feature an actor who played a Spider-Man role as one of the protagonists (Jamie Foxx, who plays Electro, and Tom Holland, who plays Spider-Man), both feature an African-American man as one of the protagonists, and both feature the protagonist suffering an unnatural transformation (Joe Gardner has his soul separated from his body, and Lance Sterling gets turned into a pigeon).
- It's Pixar's first movie to be released on Christmas.
- This is the seventh Disney animated film to be released in December, after Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, The Three Caballeros, The Sword in the Stone, The Aristocats, The Emperor's New Groove and The Princess and the Frog.
- This is the only Pixar film in which John Ratzenberger does not have a voice role. As he is not listed in the cast, many people believed he is not in the film. Pete Docter revealed that he does cameo in the film, but refused to give away where and who he is. Eventually, co-director Kemp Powers revealed that Ratzenberger's "cameo" is as a nonspeaking background character with his likeness.
- This is also the first Pixar film to have the title card appear at the end of the film.
- The eighth Disney film to feature the full 2011 Disney logo as a closing logo, after Finding Dory, Moana, Cars 3, Coco, Incredibles 2, Toy Story 4 and Frozen II.
- Soul is the tenth Pixar film to be rated PG by the MPA, the first being The Incredibles, the second being Up, the third being Brave, the fourth being Inside Out, the fifth being The Good Dinosaur, the sixth being Finding Dory, the seventh being Coco, the eighth being Incredibles 2, and the ninth being Onward.
- When 22 shows Joe the zone, she reveals that she likes to mess with people on Earth by throwing them off. Among the people she continues to mess with is a basketball player declaring "I have been messing with this team for decades." The player is shown missing his shot with an announcer declaring "And the Knicks lose another one!" This is a jab at the real life New York Knicks who have a notorious track record in the NBA.
- This is the first Pixar film to be dedicated to the COVID-19 pandemic in the end credits.
- This is the second Disney+ original movie to get a home video release, the first being Mulan.
- This is the Pixar film to earn more than 2 nominations at the Oscars since Toy Story 3 as well as the first to win more than one Golden Globe since Up.
- It is also the first to win a Golden Globe since Coco (film).