A musician who has lost his passion for music is transported out of his body and must find his way back with the help of an infant soul learning about herself.
My love of Pixar’s thought-provoking animations is no secret and I continue to be impressed with how they manage to find new angles to tell stories that balance the need to appeal to children, and a want to explore the human condition in ways that can emotionally engage all ages. ‘Soul’, much like ‘Coco’ and ‘Inside Out’, is Pixar at their deepest, delving literally into the soul to tell the story of a man who regrets much of how his life panned out. From the trailers and the information revealed prior to its release (on Disney Plus streaming from Christmas Day), I expected this to be a film like ‘Coco’, covering topics of grief and death through the prism of music, but it’s much more like ‘Inside Out’ in its exploration of what powers our deepest thoughts and feelings. This is another special movie from a special film studio that hasn’t lost any of its touch since the Disney buyout several years ago.
The premise of ‘Soul’ centres on aspiring jazz musician Joe Gardner (Jamie Foxx), a music teacher who has never quite made it to that next level in his career. When he finally gets what could be his big break he suffers an accident which leaves his soul untethered from his body and heading towards the afterlife – a place he really doesn’t feel ready for yet. On a surface level this is classic Pixar, inventing a unique world (in this case essentially a training centre for future human souls) and filling it with humorous bureaucracy and entertaining dynamics on how this ‘world beyond a world’ functions. On a deeper, thematic level, this is a framework to drive into what it really means to be human, what really matters in life, and the importance of taking a chance and backing yourself. As always, the relationships are well defined and I thought Jamie Foxx and Tina Fey (as 22, a young soul Joe is tasked to train) were superb and easy to root for. Some great supporting voice work comes from the likes of Rachel House (‘Moana’, ‘Hunt for the Wilderpeople’), Angela Bassett and Graham Norton as a pirate, the British talk show host who really should do more voiceover work – he is suited to it perfectly.
It goes without saying that the animation is crystal clear and the rendering of a busy New York is almost photographic, but we have such a high bar for Pixar now that the animation, the voicework and the humour are almost taken as givens. What their best work achieves, and I include ‘Soul’ in this, is that it reaches beyond those elements to tell a story with so much going on in the background that makes you think long after the final credits have rolled. ‘Soul’ finds Pixar at their most existential in a multilayered piece of work, and I thought this was incredibly moving and a late (and final!) entry to my favourite films of 2020.
Directed By: Pete Docter
Starring: Jamie Foxx, Tina Fey, Questlove, Phylicia Rashad, Daveed Diggs, Angela Bassett, Graham Norton, Rachel House, Richard Ayoade, Alice Braga, Wes Studi, Fortune Feimster, June Squibb, Donnell Rawlings, Esther Chae and Zenobia Shroff