Much like Onwards, that was released at the beginning of this year, Pixar’s Soul may not receive the reception it most certainly deserves. As the filming industry is still very much in a dark place at the moment, Soul joins the list of mainstream releases that is given the ‘straight to streaming’ gig instead.
Pixar’s latest adventure follows Joe Gardner (Jamie Foxx). An aspiring jazz musician who his whole life, has been desperately clutching on to his dream of taking his passion to the big leagues. Joe has never found success though, and instead takes his talent only as far as part time high school music teacher. In a day in which he is offered a job on a full time basis at the school, he is also finally given a potential break. When a former pupil of his, Curley (Questlove), recommends Joe to successful saxophone player Dorothea Williams (Angela Bassett), he is invited to play later that evening after an impressive impromptu performance.
Where there’s ups, there must be downs, literally in this case, as on his way home Joe falls down a manhole. Now leaving his soul wondering the bridge between the afterlife and revival (or the ‘Great Before’ as it’s called here). Joe will seemingly stop at nothing to get back to his life, even if it involves mentoring a troubled soul known simply as 22 (Tina Fay), whose previous mentors include some of histories most influential personages.
22 is one spark short of earning her spot on Earth, but unlike Joe, she has no interest in leaving the Great Before. She’s comfortable with just being where she is, but where so many have failed, Joe is determined to show 22 what she’s been missing. Hopefully earning his life back, and returning from his comatose state.
Like any title from Pixar, Soul excels in it’s unique storytelling capabilities and mesmerising visual artistry. Blend that with its charming musical cues, and their latest project possesses the needed qualities, that certifies this as another hit in Pixar’s stellar portfolio.
It’s easy to get lost in its wonderfully vibrant colour palette and visual design. It even manages to make New York look radiant and beaming with life.
Where my issues lie with Soul however, is the undeniable similarities it shares with previous projects in Pixar’s back catalogue. Most noticeably Inside Out and Coco (and even a dashing of Onwards for good measure). Pixar appear to have gotten themselves stuck in the death/afterlife wormhole of storytelling, and it seems the final stop in their express train through that thought process, is still nowhere in sight.
Perhaps one of the less emotionally devastating titles also. Soul may be something this film has much of, but lacks the emotional weight that almost goes hand in hand with Pixar’s narratives. And its finale leaves more to be desired, especially in context with the way the rest of the story was handled.
Soul is likely to divide opinions based solely on personal preference. On one hand, it’s yet another stunning display of Pixar’s visual dominance. The animation is perhaps more crisp and lifelike than ever before, which is a compliment in itself. And the memorable voice performances don’t just end with Jamie Foxx and Tina Fay. Graham Norton, Richard Ayoade and Daveed Diggs also offer up some enjoyable performances and some over the top caricatures (we’re looking at you Graham).
On the other hand, I don’t believe the story as a whole lands as gracefully as intended. It’s a little on the nose for adults, and for kids well, unless you’re prepared to have a conversation about life after death, it’s not going to be the easiest of things for your child to sit through. Aside from a talking cat gag, and a short amount of slapstick humour, your kids will likely be begging you to bring their favourite talking toys back to the screen.
Soul is still a sweet and deeply complex movie that manages to keep Pixar’s streak running. A nice film to end a tough year on. Perhaps it will pull on your heart strings more than it did mine, but that’ll likely be the key factor to your appreciation for their latest piece of art.
Have you seen Soul yet, if so what did you think? Sweet or ironically soulless? How does it hold up against Pixar’s previous work? Feel free to drop a comment below.
Firstly, this isn’t a ‘well, you wouldn’t understand…’ but I’m curious of your age-bracket, not in a negative sense, just how the film seems to resonating at a different level depending on your age (basically). I know it did for me, in a ‘chances not taken’ sense and so I was fully immersed and a bit inspired. I do love their work though, so might also be biased….
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Hi there. I’m 27, so I’ve been around ever since their first title. I’m glad you felt that way, as many others also did. What I love about Pixar and what they seem to do well is essentially create films for kids, but to be understood by adults. I believe I mentioned that if I had been viewing this as a kid, I’d have been bored. It gets so caught up in its deeper metaphoric state, that it kind of loses that sense of fun and adventure that I believe is the essence of a Pixar movie. Onward also dealt with a tough subject, but it handed it in such a way that you lost what the whole purpose of the story was, and went along for the ride. I still believe it’s a great movie, but it didn’t leave me with that same wholesome, fun feeling that many of their films have done in the past.
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Yeah, this is definitely one for the adults first and foremost, but I’ve got 10 years on you and so this resonated in a way I didn’t see coming. Life choices, missing moments, opportunities that got away.
It’s things that feel VERY different now, but not necessarily in a bad way, just bittersweet, and Soul really captures all that for me. Felt it also blended their photorealism from The Good Dinosaur and still hit home with strong storytelling: