director: Pete Docter (Inside Out)
starring: Jamie Foxx, Tina Fey, Daveed Diggs and Graham Norton
REVIEWER: lyall carter
A musician who has lost his passion for music is transported out of his body and must find his way back with the help of an infant soul learning about herself.
It really has been an odd year when Pixar releases not one but two feature length films (the last time that happened was in 2017 with the release of Cars 3 and Coco). While Onward struck every emotional heart string with its father/sons story, Soul heads on into the depths of the soul. While it doesn’t quite pack the emotional gut punch of other Pixar fare, Soul is a joyous adventure brimming with stunning, revolutionary animation and poses existential questions that we need to ask.
Joe Gardner is a middle-school band teacher who gets the chance of a lifetime to play at the best jazz club in town. But one small misstep takes him from the streets of New York City to The Great Before – a fantastical place where new souls get their personalities, quirks and interests before they go to Earth. Determined to return to his life, Joe teams up with a precocious soul, 22 (voice of Tina Fey), who has never understood the appeal of the human experience. As Joe desperately tries to show 22 what’s great about living, he may just discover the answers to some of life’s most important questions.
Soul feels like the most ‘grown up’ Pixar film in their twenty five year, twenty three film history. And while it tackles some pretty big ideas, your life purpose, it does so in a way that includes the adults more than most animated films do without neglecting the kids. Also there are still moments of great slapstick and one line hilarity (usually from the Jerry’s - bureaucratic figures in The Great Before).
Structurally the narrative of Soul is fairly easy to follow, even though it poses huge existential questions about life, the universe and one’s purpose, until it reaches its third act. Soul poses so many questions, with all the narrative threads required, that it doesn’t quite pull them all together in the end. However, one of the questions that it does kinda answer is profound and deeply moving for adults and children alike.
This leads to the characters of Joe and 22 getting caught up in these unresolved narrative questions that you end up not really caring for them as deeply as you would other Pixar characters. So when they swing the big emotional punch, it's more of a body blow than a clear knockout. But maybe that’s the point. Maybe we have to return for multiple viewings, to explore the questions again, and to find Joe and 22 amongst it all.
The animation is next level from the precise detailing of the New York City scenes from the chipped railing and layers of pizza sauce on a succulent crust all in a beautiful autumnal glow to the trippy, zany and highly experimentally stunning realms of the Great Before, Soul feels like it is another revolutionary step up in the photo realism and creativity of Pixar’s animation.
While it doesn’t quite pack the emotional gut punch of other Pixar fare, Soul is a joyous adventure brimming with stunning, revolutionary animation and poses existential questions that we need to ask.
Soul is available on disc and digital from all good retailers.
Disney features always contains tremendous features on their disc releases and Soul is no disappointment. From a plethora of deleted scenes to doco features of the making of the film itself, Soul is more than worth grabbing off your local disc retailers shelf for the extras alone.
My favorite doco feature would have to Soul, Improvised which details the team finishing the film under Covid lockdown from home. From the technical channels to the creative and communal challenges, Soul, Improvised documents it all for us. It's incredible what the Pixar team has delivered on screen when you witness the hurdles they had to overcome to get this film in the can.
LIST OF EXTRAS
Audio Commentary – View the film with audio commentary by director Pete Docter, co-director/writer Kemp Powers and producer Dana Murray.
Not Your Average Joe – See the thought and care that went into crafting Joe and his story in Pixar’s first film to feature a Black leading character.
Astral Taffy – Get an in-depth look at the artistry and technical innovation that went into creating the sets and characters in the world of Soul.
Pretty Deep for a Cartoon – The filmmakers tackle big questions, such as where does a newborn’s personality come from, what’s the meaning of life, and more!
Into the Zone: The Music and Sound of Soul – Explore the movie’s different sonic worlds and discover how music drives and adds specificity to Joe’s journey.
Soul, Improvised – See how the Pixar Systems team and Soul's crew managed to finish the film on schedule during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Jazz Greats – Giants of the jazz world who consulted on Soul share their passion and hard-won wisdom about what music is and does for us all.