Joe (Jamie Foxx, “The Amazing Spider Man 2”), a middle school music teacher in New York likes his job, but he has far bigger aspirations and and would love to be a professional jazz pianist. When he is offered a tenured position by the school, full-time with benefits, he remains hesitant, to the puzzlement of his mother. One day his dream is coming true as his drummer friend invites him to audition for a coveted spot in a band led by a legendary jazz singer, Dorothea (Angela Bassett, “Black Panther”). Joe impresses the singer with his performance and he's granted the spot.
On cloud nine and not paying attention to where he's going, Joe falls down into a deep hole on the road. In this purgatory realm, he's floating towards the darkness of Great Beyond, which means he would say goodbye to the world before he even could realize his lifelong dream of playing alongside Dorothea and becoming a successful jazz pianist.
Determined not ending up on the Great Beyond, Joe somehow ends up in the glowing, pastel-colored Great Before, which is the realm where all the cute baby souls reside before they're born transported into Earth and born into humans. All souls are given personalities, but in order to materialize into the world of living, they must have the last piece of the ingredient, which is “spark.” Guided by counselors and mentors, the souls attend classes and try to find their sparks.
Joe meets a forever-cynical and self-doubting soul named 22 (Tina Fey), a soul who has never been able to find her spark and thus hasn't been able to be be born, even as they go through the Hall of Everything and explores what kinds of activities that would would trigger 22's interest. Joe, whose jazz piano-playing has been his singular passion and being a professional player is his life purpose, couldn't comprehend why it's so hard for 22 to find something that is right for her. So much so that 22 doesn't even want to be born and can't muster any excitement of living in the human world.
With the help of Moonwind (Graham Norton), a mystic, Joe and 22 end up in New York City. New York City is sharply rendered that it's so realistic-looking. Of course, the transport to the land of living is not without mishap. Cue in body-swap antics and you'll have Joe vicariously experiences 'day in the life' of his human form through 22. Meanwhile, 22, a total skeptic, is learning and taking in the new experiences of living as a human. The good, the simple pleasures, even the mundanes and nuisances.
Seeing his life play out through the eyes of another, Joe notices things that he didn't before as he lived his life previously either going through the motion or always felt that it wasn't enough. That he wasn't enough and that if he didn't accomplish his purpose his life of being a professional jazz pianist, he would be a failure. He's also surprised by how it feels like once the lifelong goal is achieved. If jazz is his everything, how is he supposed to feel and what comes next? The movie could spend a little more time on this so it wouldn't feel a bit rushed, but as an animation, the narrative is well-understood.
Passion is great, and so is having a purpose in life, and we can aspire to do great things and work towards those. But be mindful of having a singular, all-consuming ambition. Don't go through life perpetually chasing things and not enjoying the little moments... because when you reach your destination, you will have missed the journey entirely.
While simplified, “Soul” offers a soulful and sparkly treat of being alive and the joy of living.