Minor spoilers for the first act, nothing not shown in the trailer.
Well, 2020 is almost over and aren’t we glad for it. And as a little gift to Disney+ subscribers this year, the Mouse House has decided to drop its latest Pixar offering onto its streaming platform at no additional charge (unlike the live-action remake of Mulan earlier this year, which despite the additional cost, saw subscriptions go up 68%). The film is Soul, directed by Pete Docter (Up, Inside Out) and Kemp Powers (the writer of One Night in Miami), a philosophical deep dive into life set to the rhythm of jazz. So, should you take some time out of your day this holiday season to watch it, or even subscribe to Disney+ to see what the fuss is about, or let this one drift into the aether?
Soul features the voice of Jamie Foxx as Joe Gardner, a middle-school band teacher who is passionate about all things jazz and hopes to one day make jamming with the greats his career and legacy. Things finally seem to be going Joe’s way within the first few minutes of the movie then, because of all that excitement, is distracted and falls down a manhole, seemingly plummeting to his death. Joe’s soul is then off to The Great Beyond, but Joe doesn’t have time for this! Nope, he has things to do, has a gig to attend and be breaks free from the constraints of the afterlife and ends up at The Great Before, the place where unborn souls get their personalities and find out what kind of person they’ll grow up to be. This is where Joe meets Soul 22 (Tina Fey), a soul who doesn’t want to go to Earth, as it’s the place where souls are crushed and things like that. Life is scary and 22 really doesn’t want to leave the comforts of The Great Before. Before I get ahead of myself, I’ll stop talking about the plot there, which is still the early establishing parts of the movie.
So, I’ll just get this out of the way now in case you’re a parent and you’re wondering if you should load up the movie to watch with the young ones or the family. I’d say, sure, there’s nothing M rated in here or anything like that, but I do think this is the most “grown-up” Pixar movie to date. As such, kids may not resonate with this movie and find it boring. Again, depends on the kid, but something to bear in mind. But adults, oh man, strap in. This movie is about life. The choices you’ve made that have left you up to this point. What is your purpose in it? Have you lived a fulfilling life? What exactly is a fulfilling life? How do you know what your purpose in life is? These are all questions that Soul asks and kids just haven’t got the life experience yet to relate to these deeper questions. That said, the movie is still plenty entertaining for kids, especially the second act, and if they liked Inside Out or Coco, they should do just fine considering.
So let’s talk about the cast. Jamie Foxx does such a fantastic job as Joe. He’s instantly likeable, relateable and tragic, all at once. It’s a shame the Academy won’t nominate an actor for voice work cause Foxx totally deserves a nod for his role here. Likewise, Tina Fey brings on the levity at the right moments, but her character’s jokes are often bleak, taking jabs at real life. Without diving into things, let’s just say that things take an interesting twist partway through the movie and 22 begins to see life a little different. It’s in these moments that we can take a look at our own lives, see what we can’t be doing differently to better ourselves more. Rounding out the voice cast is Graham Norton, Angela Basset, Richard Ayoade, Rachel House and Questlove, among many more.
The animation is, of course, phenomenal. The bustling streets of New York City are jaw-droppingly beautiful. Pixar is just showing off at this point. But the more fantastical elements are also wonderfully realized with plenty of imagination. The music too is amazing. There are two elements, a jazz component which is going to be a treat for those who dig jazz. It’s alive, vibrant and makes you understand why Joe is so passionate about the genre. The score is the complete opposite, which is interesting. Scored by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, the electronic elements of the score come in when things get deeper, philosophical or involve the Great locations. The two styles are so different but they illustrate the wildness and improvised nature of life versus the more established and orderly rule of the Great locations, which have very specific purposes.
Soul is the most “real” Pixar film to date. It touches on a lot of personal, deep and difficult questions about life, death and purpose. Maybe the experience won’t be so relatable for kids, who should still get a kick out of the movie, but in a way, Pixar made a movie that’s tailored more towards parents and adults this time around, rather than the other way around. The movie is enlightening and inspiring and it features both amazing music and stellar voice work. Soul is Pixar at its most unique and ambitious and you shouldn’t miss out on it.