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A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
Young viewers will learn a bit about jazz music, what it means to be mentored, what motivates people to live their best life.
Promotes following your dreams, but not at the exclusion of human connections and relationships. Encourages not taking life for granted and savoring small, everyday moments. Strong family relationships and friendships are highlighted, as are having passions and interests. No life is meaningless if you feel love and have friendships. One person's "spark" may not fullfil another; we all have our own purpose to find. Themes also include compassion, empathy, perseverance.
Positive Role Models
Joe is a dedicated teacher, a disciplined musician, a devoted son. And 22 grows as a character, discovering the small joys of humanity.
First Pixar movie with Black main character. Majority of human characters are also Black and are authentically voiced by actors like Jamie Foxx, Phylicia Rashad, Angela Bassett, etc. Native actors like Rachel House (Māori) and Wes Studi (Cherokee) voice noncorporeal characters of Terry and Counselor Jerry, respectively. Several strong female characters, as well as genderless unborn/other souls. But the film never sits comfortably in its Blackness -- perhaps a reflection of how the character of Joe was established by White writer-director Pete Docter long before Black co-director Kemp Powers joined. Ultimately well-intended, Soul still feeds into decades of Hollywood's penchant for transforming main characters of color into nonhumans (The Princess and the Frog, Spies in Disguise). Many diverse cast members become stylized, formless beings who rally in support of a White- and female-coded character's personal journey -- including Joe, who for much of the film exists as either a formless blue blob or a calico cat. And having 22 (voiced by Tina Fey) piloting Joe's Black body uncomfortably evokes themes of Jordan Peele's Get Out, in which White souls use Black bodies for their own gain. Soul lacks that film's self-awareness around the flawed visual metaphor.
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Violence & Scariness
Joe falls down a manhole (nongraphic), and his body appears dead or dying. He's hospitalized and looks disheveled/jittery while walking around the city. It seems like Joe has died in a couple of scenes. Physical comedy as Joe makes his way around NYC with another soul controlling his body.
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One use of "crap." "My life was meaningless." Also "meh," "idiot," "imbecile," "selfish," "self-absorbed," "you ruin everything," "you have no purpose."
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Soul is Pixar's thought-provoking animated movie about a middle-aged band teacher named Joe (voiced by Jamie Foxx) who nearly dies and gets stuck in the "Great Before" section of the afterlife (where unborn souls prepare to be assigned a trip to Earth) and then tries to make his way back to his body. It's beautiful and creative, with themes of compassion, empathy, and perseverance, but it's likely to resonate more with adults who've wondered about the meaning of life than with little kids. And while there's no real violence, the movie makes it ambiguous whether Joe is dead or alive, which could upset or confuse some younger viewers. There are also philosophical themes about the meaning of life that might go over kids' heads, as well as arguments and a bit of insult language ("imbecile," "idiot," "self-absorbed," etc.). This is Pixar's first movie with a Black main character, and the film struggles to sit comfortably with that: Joe spends much of the film outside of his own Black body, seen instead as a blue blob, a calico cat, or, in an eyebrow-raising body-swap plot, accidentally taken over and piloted by 22 (voiced by White actor Tina Fey). The all-star voice cast does embrace a diverse range of actors, though, including Angela Bassett, Daveed Diggs, Phylicia Rashad, and Questlove. It features jazz music composed and supervised by Jon Baptiste, as well as a score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails.
Is It Any Good?
Mature messages about the meaning of life and death may elude younger children, but kids are still likely to enjoy the adorable souls and the laughs in Pixar's thoughtful, vividly animated dramedy. It's difficult to fully explain Soul's plot, which takes place half on Earth and half in the after/before-life, but it makes sense as you experience it. Co-directed by Pete Docter and Kemp Powers (the Black playwright and screenwriter who also wrote One Night in Miami) and based on a script they co-wrote with Mike Jones, the movie follows the experiences of a Black man (Foxx) as well as a lost soul (Fey) on a journey to overcome her insecurities. And Joe isn't going to, as Lin-Manuel Miranda puts it in Hamilton, throw away his shot -- even if that means sneaking his way back to Earth. Foxx's and Fey's voice talents are supported by a wonderful international cast that includes Daveed Diggs, Questlove, Alice Braga, Graham Norton, Wes Studi, and Rachel House (Thor Ragnarok) as a particularly hilarious, rule-following, deadpan accountant for the Great Beyond who knows their tally is off by one person.
Pixar continues to outdo itself on the aesthetic front, and the animation is stellar: Scenes of the dust particles on Joe's piano, the cheese on a New York City pizza, and the fabric on a suit seem so real that it's almost difficult to believe it's animated. And there are plenty of other things to love about the movie, too: the jazz music (supervised and written by Jon Baptiste of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert), the banter between Joe and 22, and the heartfelt representation of the Black community (most notably in a barber shop Joe frequents, his relationship with his mother, voiced by Phylicia Rashad, and the circle of jazz performers). Powers' contribution to the screenplay is crucial, as it lends a lived-experience authenticity to these scenes, but his late-stage addition to the filmmaking team didn't magically solve some of the core issues inherent in Joe's story arc and film's prioritization of 22. One thing to consider is that Soul is unlikely to appeal to little kids as much as it will to teens and adults (kind of like Ratatouille), and its messages about pursuing your dreams and what it means to have a spark for life might be a bit too nuanced. Soul may not solve any existential crises, but it will make audiences appreciate this one "wild and precious life."
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.