Movie Review: Soul
Soul is an animated film about Joe Gardner, a jazz musician and teacher, who on the eve of his big break dies when he falls down an open manhole. Though, as his soul makes its way to the afterlife, Joe decides he's got some unfinished business on Earth. He fakes his way into a mentorship role with a new soul and together they hatch a plan to get Joe back down to Earth in time for his big gig. The film stars the voices of Jamie Foxx, Tina Fey, Graham Norton, Rachel House, Alice Braga, Richard Ayoade, Donnell Rawlings, Ahmir-Khalib Thompson a.k.a. Questlove, Cora Champommier, Margo Hall, Daveed Diggs, Rhodessa Jones, Wes Studi, Angela Bassett, and Phylicia Rashad. The film is directed by Pete Docter and Kemp Powers and is written by Docter, Powers, and Mike Jones. The film is streaming exclusively on Disney+.
It was pointed out to me recently that most if not all Pixar films are about mortality or obsolescence. There's something inherent in all of these animated features written by adults for a wide range of ages and social backgrounds that screams out to us that our existence is finite. Soul has its moments of that depth, but more often than not, it's about Joe choosing to not live for what he thinks he's supposed to do, but to follow the crooked path and take life as an adventure.
It really helps that that crooked path is so beautifully drawn and rendered. I believe I mentioned it when I wrote about Onward this last March that Pixar has the unique distinction of bringing we who have so little magic in our lives into magical worlds and Soul is no exception to that. Yet, instead of building a new world, we're introduced to concepts that we all think about when we understand our own mortality and how we think about the deeper philosophical aspects of what it is to be human. I love that these concepts were made manifest in ways I could never imagine.
I especially love the two dimensional renderings of Counselor Jerry (all of them) and Accountant Terry. There's something unique in the idea that they are so advanced they need nothing of the physical plane to do their jobs, but use it to make a soul's existence more comfortable. The most mind boggling aspect is when Terry goes to Earth and how they interact with their surroundings. The world is rendered so beautifully that I completely forgot that the action was animation within animation and not animation placed in our physical world.
Though what always makes me sigh about these films is their basic structure. I know it's not something to nitpick about. Soul is meant to reach the widest possible audience and that means the story can't be some convoluted, overly complicated plot that scrambles your brain, but it definitely takes all of my will to keep paying attention to the same jokes and story beats that I've seen in every film of its ilk.
What I look forward to in every Pixar movie, though is that third act. That last portion of the film that makes me truly care again and fills me with emotion and awe. Every single time they pull off that last emotional leap with such grace and often in some kind of beautiful silence. I look for that catharsis in every one of their films and it often makes me forget what I groaned about in that first hour.
Every performance in Soul hits on a note of wonderful perfection, but what I really want to praise is that this is a film with a diverse cast of characters and they have the voices to match. There has been a slow reckoning in voice acting and in Hollywood that roles should reflect the diversity of our world and not just the small part of it that holds the most power. It's really refreshing to see an original work with diversity in the Earthly characters and in the actors playing after life concepts as well.
Despite that broad audience appeal I'm indifferent toward, Soul is a beautiful, humane, and yes, soulful experience. The animation, the music, the wild concepts that make me want to change how I live my life, all of it is incredible. I really loved the experience of watching Soul and I encourage you to do the same.