Length: 101 minutes
The world is full of questions; mysteries to ponder and puzzle in the wee hours of the morning. What’s the meaning of life? What is this thing called love? Why do adult humans voluntarily watch TV programs about competitive home renovations?
The biggest question, however, the one that keeps a lot of us up at night is: what happens when we die? Pixar’s new flick, Soul, answers that question (sorta) in a kid-friendly, but still quite poignant, way.
Soul tells the tale of high school music teacher Joe Gardner (Jamie Foxx), who is good at his job but ultimately dreams of playing jazz in a band. One fine day, it appears Joe’s dreams may finally be coming true when an ex-student gives him the chance to play with renowned muso Dorothea Williams (Angela Bassett).
Giddy with joy, Joe practically dances down the street… and walks straight into an open manhole, falling to his death. Crikey, that’s grimmer than the first ten minutes of Up!
Nek minute, Joe’s an untethered soul, about to head into the mysterious Great Beyond. But Joe’s not ready to go quietly into that good night, not before his big chance at fame and fortune (or the jazz musician equivalent). So he flees the great soul conveyor belt and tries to get back to Earth.
Before long, Joe has embroiled himself in a plan involving supernatural soul counsellors (all named Jerry), assumed a fake identity in the Great Before and mentors a stubborn unborn soul named 22 (Tina Fey).
The first thing to note about Soul is that it’s simply gorgeous. Even by the high standards of Pixar, this is a visual feast. The juxtaposition of gritty New York City with the hazy dreamworld of the afterlife is a treat for the eyes.
Also, the soundtrack is amazing. One of Pixar’s best. The combination of jazz jams from Jon Batiste for the earthbound sections, and dreamy cuts from Trent Reznor (!) and Atticus Ross for the afterlife parts, is a winning combination.
Side note: we’re living in a world where Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent flippin’ Reznor is doing tunes for Disney, people. We are officially through the looking glass!
Voice acting is uniformly excellent as well, with Jamie Foxx and Tine Fey sparking off one another spectacularly, and kudos to a surprisingly nuanced turn by Graham Norton as the sign-twirling mystic, Moonwind.
There are a lot of plates to keep spinning in this flick but director Pete Docter (Up, Inside Out) does an admirable job for most of the runtime. In fact, the only real negative here is some of the plot inconsistencies involving Joe’s method of death.
The logistics of Joe shuffling off his mortal coil are dubiously handwaved, which makes some of the occurrences in the third act feel a bit contrived, even twee. It’s a minor nitpick, but it does detract from the overall quality just a smidgen.
Still and all, Soul is a more philosophical and thoughtful film from Pixar. The stakes are low, but the introspection is high, and while it’s a shame the film pulls some of its later punches, there’s a beautiful yarn here about appreciating the small things and accepting that which we cannot change.
Perhaps not quite at the top tier level of WALL-E or the first Toy Story, Soul is nonetheless moving, exciting and often very funny. Well worth a watch if for nothing other than a bit of upbeat escapism from our decidedly dystopian present.
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