Currently streaming on Disney+ from directors Peter Doctor, Kemp Powers is the musical life that reaches down to the SOUL.
Joe (voiced by Jamie Foxx) is a high school music teacher that is still trying to bring his love of jazz into a profession. When former student Dez (Donnell Rawlings) calls to let him know that sax player Dorothea Williams (Angela Bassett) is looking for a piano man, Joe is beyond thrilled.
Making his way to the club, Joe plays his heart out and Dorothea tells him to come back in a suit to play with her quartet that very night. Believing his world is about to change forever, he has no idea how right he is. After a little accident, Joe opens his eyes to discover he is not quite sure where he is!
On a long ramp leading toward the light and the Great Beyond, Joe comes to understand that he is not part of the world any longer and he is not about to take that lightly. After another tumble, he finds himself surrounded but giggles and cuteness. Learning from the Counselor’s Jerry (Alice Braga), Jerry (Richard Ayoade), Jerry (Fortune Feimster), and Jerry (Zenobia Shroff) and Jerry (Wes Studi) that he has landed in the Great Before, they think Joe is there to train souls and given 22 (Tina Fey), a soul that has had no luck in learning anything from anyone.
Joe’s job is to help 22 find her spark that will get Joe an Earth badge so he can return. After trying again and again, Joe is wondering if maybe there is a good reason 22 never made it to Earth. That is when Joe and 22 meet Moonwind (Graham Norton), who has the ability to be both on earth and in the Great Before to rescue lost souls.
Agreeing to help, Joe and 22 make a jump back to Earth where 22 becomes Joe and Joe becomes a cat! About this time, the soul accountant Terry (Rachel House) realizes that the soul count is off, and he is not about to have that! Now the race is on for Terry to correct the count, Joe and 22 to find their way back to themselves and Joe to make it to the performance by nightfall.
This soul thing is pretty complicated!
Foxx as Joe plays an endearing man who has a unique love of jazz but can only find a job as a high school music teacher. When given the chance to do what he has always wanted, he takes it and finally sees his musical future. Foxx gives Joe lovability, humor, an outlook that transcends his Before and After and the something we can all relate to – dealing with a Mom we are afraid to say “this is what I want for my life” without chickening out.
Fey as 22 is as hyper as a soul can get! This soul is not as different from Joe as she would like to think. There are fears here as well but covered up sass and pride in never having been sucked into the vortex to Earth. Fey is charming, funny and a stubbornness that keeps her from joining the human race. Once she has a chance to experience life on Earth, there is a change in both 22 and Joe that is so very sweet.
Shout out to Phylicia Rashad as Mom Libba who wants the best for her son and believes the life her husband had was a hard one and does not want it for her son. Basset as Dorothea sees the potential in Joe, but she just does not have the time to deal with him in a hospital gown on the city streets. Norton as Moonwind just had me cracking up from start to finish but if I was a lost soul, I’d be thrilled to have his ship pull up and rescue me.
Shout out to all the Jerry’s for being compassionate, understanding and gentle spirits in the midst of Joe and 22’s madness. House as Terry is another character that I just love with the spirit to seek out the missing soul because one slot open on the abacas just won’t do!
Other cast include Questlove as Curley, Cora Champommier as Connie, Margo Hall as Melba, Daveed Diggs as Paul, Rhodessa Jones as Lulu, Peggy Flood as Marge, June Squibb as Gerel, Cathy Cavadini as Dreamerwind, Dorian Lockett as Dorian, Esther Chae as Miho, Elisapie Isaac as Miali, and Marcus Shelby as Ray Gardner.
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SOUL is everything we have come to expect from Disney and so much more. During this time of anxiety, this film gives us all a chance to cuddle up with our family and be taken away into a story of love, life, family and how we all need to be true to ourselves.
The film is hilarious, heartwarming, lovely, and vivid in color. The story is complex but not in a way that is hard for children to follow. My granddaughter was riveted the moment SOUL came on the screen because she also has a love of music. She, along with the entire family, felt for Joe and just love 22 and the antics she manages to cause.
That is what a Disney film does, transports us all into another realm of possibilities with hope, love, and the continual belief that we need to try to do the things that bring us joy – and right now that is top on my family’s list. As we all look forward to this new year, it is my hope we all can do it with a little bit of SOUL.
In the end – everybody has a soul and Joe is about to find his!