There are just some things in life you can never doubt, and the classic pairing of Disney/Pixar and director Pete Docter is a Hollywood combination that never fails at anything. Personally, he the best director the studio has. Without them, how can you not find the love for the uniqueness of Monsters, Inc., Up, and Inside Out? People who don’t have a heart, that’s who! But sometimes, we need a film that’ll make us think about life and finding our sole purpose in figuring out who we are in this world. Something like the animation studio’s latest flick, Soul, will probably be the most philosophical thing in all the entertainment for both kids and adults to get behind from beginning to end.
What’s the Story: Joe Garner (voiced by Jamie Foxx) is a middle-school band teacher whose life hasn’t quite gone the way he expected. His true passion is to make a living by playing jazz as a musician in New York City. But when he finally lands the gig of his life of playing with Dorothea Williams, he meets an unexpected death and travels to another realm where his soul is found in a place called “The Great Before” where he teams up with soul 22 (voiced by Tina Fey), and together they find the answers to some of life’s biggest questions.
This is one of the few occasions where we have two Pixar movies released the same year; the first one being Onward, which was not only a really good fantasy, but it was the last movie I saw in theaters before the shutdown. But I was so excited for Soul ever since news broke of it before even knowing what it was going to be about. There’s another film exploring the same concept called Nine Days that I’m curious to check out, even though it got pushed back, and I’m one of the few who didn’t get to see it early. It’s also a grand thing for another blockbuster to drop on another streaming service during the holiday season after getting pushed back twice from its summer and fall dates. Plus, we should be lucky to not pay $30 this time. With a film like Soul, you know it’s great when you think about it once it’s over, which means it’s easy to call this one of the very best films everyone will enjoy by the end of the year.
This is another win for Docter as director and co-writer along with Kemp Powers (One Night in Miami), and there’s no blaming him for creating a film that’s both profound and imaginative in every sense of both words. For a man who can create an amazing film about emotion, it wasn’t too shocking to explore the themes of life. What we’re seeing is a world where we follow one person pre-death before they’re sent to whatever and see how every soul gets their personality. How Docter and Powers and Mike Jones as co-writers delves into how do we determine the way we are can seem a lot to take in, yet they handled the style of “the meaning of life” that left me questioning things in a good way. We always have to mention how the animation looks whenever they come out, and it’s impossible to not be blown completely away with how this look. Almost every movie from them gets better and better as time passes, but it’s an impressive feat that never fails in my mind. The animation throughout Soul has this very realistic look that’s some of the most remarkable scenery I’ve ever witness, whether it from capturing the trueness of New York, the Great Before, or all the characters, I couldn’t believe my eyes between the two separate worlds.
You got your voice cast with some recognizable talents lending their part to their respective characters better than I expected. Jamie Foxx provides the voice of our main lead, and knowing months back his character would be the first African-American lead in a Pixar film is an accomplishment. I really enjoyed the character of Joe, and he’s essentially like Ryan Gosling’s character from La La Land where his love jazz fills his body in completion, and he’s stuck with this job as a teacher who had been hired to do full-time, but that’s not what he hoped for in the long run. Joe wants to inspire those around him, especially his students, to understand his knowledge of jazz in a fashion only he can reach that goal of his. As always, Tina Fey crushes with anything she’s given to a film (mostly), and it’s a surprise to like the role of 22, a lost soul who’s been in the Great Before for thousands of years, not wanting to do anything with Earth. Their journey they go on is definitively weird where it eventually goes, but the relationship between them oddly makes for an impressive pair despite their difference in life. Some other voices I didn’t know were in this afterward include Graham Norton as Moonwind, Questlove as Curley, Phylicia Rashad as Joe’s mother Libba, and Rachel House as Terry, the soul counter who noticed something’s off right when Joe arrives.
This also has the kind of humor you’ve come to expect from Pixar, and it caught me off guard by how much I was laughing. Believe me when I say this was the funniest family movie in a while. Some jokes will go over kids’ heads, while the adults get them in an instant. Probably the funniest running gag involves flashbacks with 22 interacting with other famous figures as its mentor. Even a New York Knicks gag was genius. If we’re searching for another score from this year worth talking about, that honor goes to Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross for delivering another incredible score that’s their best work since The Social Network, for which they won the Oscar for Best Orignal Score. Never would I think this duo would composer a Pixar film since they’ve mostly done much darker films in the past, but their style fits perfectly in a way I didn’t expect. Every track is mesmerizing, especially all the jazz incorporated from Jon Batiste in the beginning.
Having watched this, I can kind of see its younger audience finding it a bit boring since it revolves around a subject matter they probably aren’t akin to yet since it would be difficult to understand. Who knows? When I was watching Soul, what I took away from this is being true to find your absolute passion in life that makes you happy, passing along that same passion to someone else. For me, everybody in life knows there’s nothing I love more than film, and it’s one of many things that makes me who I am, honestly. Without it, who knows what’s left for me. Death has been on my mind recently, more than usual, but it left me questioning what will happen if I kick the bucket all of a sudden. Will I die in my sleep? Will it be COVID-related? My health? I know I shouldn’t be thinking about this, but you never know. Life is a challenge for all of us, and it’s hard to know what it truly means to us, especially when it’s becoming difficult every second of every day. But sometimes, you have to live your life the best way you can while trying to make things positive.
Did this affect me more than something like Inside Out? I only watched it once so far, but not quite, and though I didn’t cry, I was emotional in the third act. If I had to rank it somewhere, I would place it at #10. For all I know, this could be another Pixar movie that could lead to a Best Picture nomination, and an animation film has to be this cool to be worthy of that high.
Final Thoughts: This was my most anticipated animation for the rest of the fall, and I’m glad to say it didn’t disappoint. Soul is all kinds of wonderful. And if we’re being honest, it might be Pixar’s very best original story in their filmography since Inside Out in a mature effort from them that’s not only funny and has spectacular animation but tags on a message everyone can stay attached to for as long as they live. This is one the adults will respect more than kids, but there’s no denying the studio has another memorable hit on their hands, and it’s warranted. I know some don’t have Disney+ currently, but they should still give it a chance if you’ve been a dedicated Pixar fan for life.