A lot or a little?
What 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 all-star voice cast includes Angela Bassett, Daveed Diggs, Phylicia Rashad, and Questlove (plus Tina Fey) and features jazz music composed and supervised by Jon Baptiste, as well as a score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross.
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
Disney/Pixar's SOUL is the story of Joe Gardner (voiced by Jamie Foxx), a pianist who is offered a steady full-time job teaching middle school band but is ambivalent about it because he's been pursuing a professional music career for many years. On the same day he gets the job offer, Joe unexpectedly lands a plum gig playing with a famous saxophonist (Angela Bassett). Right after getting this amazing news, Joe falls into a manhole -- and the next thing he knows, his soul is on an escalator to the Great Beyond. But Joe isn't ready to go: His dream had finally come true! So he fights his way into the Great Beyond, a trippy, colorful, ethereal place where unborn souls reside until they've acquired not only the personality traits they'll have once they're assigned to a human body but also an indefinable "spark" for life. New souls are given mentors (the souls of notable people who've died) to help them prepare for their journey as humans. Joe is mistaken for a mentor and assigned to "troubled" unborn soul 22 (Tina Fey), who's outlasted hundreds of other mentors (from Gandhi and Marie Curie to Mother Theresa and Abraham Lincoln) and has yet to find her spark and earn her ticket to Earth. Joe, still obsessed with making his upcoming gig, must find a way to inspire 22 and get back to Earth.
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 is fully centered on a Black main character's experiences. And Joe isn't going to, as Lin-Manuel Miranda put it so eloquently 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, 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 (Fey is brilliant as the sassy unborn soul), 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-experiences authenticity to the film. The main criticism of Soul is that it's unlikely to appeal to litle kids as much as it will to teens and adults (kind of like Ratatouille), and that 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."
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about Soul's philosophical themes. What do you see as the movie's messages about how to live a meaningful life? How does that goal vary for different people?
Why is it important for the characters in movies and TV shows to be diverse?
How does Soul compare to other Pixar movies you've seen? Who do you think its target audience is?
- On DVD or streaming: March 23, 2021
- Cast: Jamie Foxx, Tina Fey, Daveed Diggs
- Director: Pete Docter
- Studio: Disney+
- Genre: Family and Kids
- Topics: Friendship
- Character strengths: Compassion, Empathy, Perseverance
- Run time: 100 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: thematic elements and some language
- Awards/Honors: Academy Award, Common Sense Selection, Golden Globe
- Last updated: October 12, 2021
Our editors recommend
For kids who love animated adventures
Find more movies that help kids build character.
Themes & Topics
Browse titles with similar subject matter.
Top advice and articles
Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.
Streaming options powered by JustWatch