MOVIE REVIEW: “Soul” is voiced by Jamie Foxx (Django Unchained, Collateral ), Tina Fey (Mean Girls, 30 Rock [TV series]), Graham Norton (Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga, I Could Never Be Your Woman), Rachel House (Moana, Thor: Ragnarok), Alice Braga (I Am Legend, Predators), Richard Ayoade (Early Man, The IT Crowd [TV series]), Phylicia Rashad (The Cosby Show [TV series], Creed), Donnell Rawlings (Spider-Man 2, Chappelle’s Show [TV series]), Questlove (The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon [TV series], Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping), Angela Bassett (Black Panther, Olympus Has Fallen), Cora Champommier, Margo Hall (Blindspotting, All Day and a Night), Daveed Diggs (Hamilton, Wonder), and John Ratzenberger (Cheers [TV series], Miracle in East Texas). It is directed by Pete Docter (Up, Inside Out) and Kemp Powers (One Night in Miami, Star Trek: Discovery [TV series]), who both also wrote the screenplay with Mike Jones (EvenHand, Luca).
Joe (Foxx), a public school music teacher, finally gets a shot at his dream of becoming a professional jazz musician, only to have it all taken away when he suddenly dies. Now in heaven, Joe seeks to return to earth and pursue the career he’s always wanted for himself.
Continuing with the Christmas streamer trend, we have Pixar’s latest, “Soul.” As if we couldn’t be more reflective on life as it is this year…
For those of you who have followed this review site over the past few years know my thoughts towards the animation giant that is Pixar. I grew up with them, and have been inspired by many of their classics from the mid-90s to early 10’s. One of the saddest things to witness was the company’s struggle to reignite that spark that separated them from everyone else. The “Cars” sequels weren’t cutting it (heck, they invested a lot into other B-rate sequels too), I wasn’t as swept away by “Inside Out” as others, and my expectations for the brand diminished rather greatly by the time “Toy Story 4” came and went. I wished for more, desired something bolder, fresher… then “Soul” came along.
What is this movie? It’s quite possibly Pixar’s most adult story yet. We’re diving into the essence of life and purpose, people; prepare to contemplate. Pete Docter, who helmed the hit “Inside Out,” presided as director over this endeavor, and sought to craft a journey unlike any other about a music teacher feeling like he’s destined for more… only to come up short when he suddenly dies. It’s in this struggle to return to life that he realizes it’s true meaning, and boy does Pixar get reflective.
Obviously, it goes without saying how beautiful this movie looks. Plenty of times my mouth hung open at the visuals. We saw it in “Toy Story 4,” with their new engine that can emulate realistic lighting and camera focal lengths, but Pixar takes it a step further with a tale that centers around real people, in a real city. My goodness folks, this was mind-blowing. At one point, there’s a shot of a woman’s hands playing a saxophone, and for a split second, I thought it was real. The attention to detail is off the charts, and I knew that if the picture resolution was better (downside to streaming: gotta have strong WiFi), I would be salivating. Oy vey. There’s no contest with Pixar and their animation prowess.
As we weave through the story, it becomes clear the point that Docter and his team are trying to make; however, I was still left intrigued at the pure openness that the movie presented. There’s moments that make you question things, certain visuals and lines of dialogue that leave quite a bit up for interpretation. The world that the writers create for this narrative is wild, as the afterlife is painted in such a strange, peculiar way. Of course, it’s complete creative freedom that plays into the point that Docter wants to make, leading to a theme that had me torn…
I’m sure audiences will walk away with different opinions on the message being conveyed with this picture. I’ve seen both camps (love and hate), and I will say that there were certain aspects that I didn’t particularly agree with. In dealing with purpose, Docter takes the road less traveled; I didn’t find myself latching onto it at first, but I eventually understood, and saw that the point Docter and his staff were trying to make was merely an extension of the theme of purpose. It’s a topic that I’d love to discuss with someone, especially since I’ve been informed that Docter is a Christian, and the message conveyed in this piece can (at times) take away from the point that we are called to this life for a reason. Alas, I am probably the worst person to discuss this, but I just wanted to state what was going through my mind after I watched the film. Honestly, my head was swimming, and I was trying to make sense of my thoughts.
The viewing experience calls into question as to how likeable it really is. I mean… will kids get it? I saw it with my twelve year old brother and he said that he understood most of it, but there were a few moments that he couldn’t grasp. “What did the leaf mean?” (I won’t spoil it [how would I go about spoiling it anyway?], but you’ll get what I mean once you see it). I could tell that he wasn’t really captivated by the theme, or else he would’ve talked about it further. It’s a story I can see adults walking from with more than the kiddos. And that’s okay. There’s still enough fun to keep the little ones engaged, with good humor, situations, and terrific voice acting. Also… since when did animated films have to strictly be for kids?
“Soul” is a movie I would have to see again to get a better grip on. Particularly with my stance on its message. I found certain elements to hit home for me. Our lead character believes his life to be meaningless if he can’t achieve the purpose he has set for himself… I find that very relatable. Also, quite shocking to see in a Pixar movie. They’re making bold choices once more, which I love. And no matter the little kinks within the narrative that I would critique (the plot structure can be a bit chaotic… much like jazz, no?), I was still glued to the screen, amazed at the sheer detail and deep/explorative theme that were presented. This is certainly Pixar’s best feat in recent memory, and I’d even go as far to say I took more from it than “Inside Out” (haters, come at me). If you have Disney+, please watch it. If you don’t, well… borrow someone else’s. FINAL SCORE: 93%= Juicy Popcorn
Here is the trailer: