I haven’t really been a fan of Pixar for quite sometime. The last movie of theirs to really blow me away was 2015’s Inside Out. Everything else since then has been a hit or miss — Coco being the only one that really deserves the hype and praise. So my excitement for Soul was minimal to say the least. But I had just finished Wonder Woman 1984 and I still had some time to kill so I thought, “Why not give it a go?” Well, I gave it a go…
Where the hell has THIS Pixar been?
Soul is one of Pixar’s most grounded and still imaginative movies in years. I will say that Inside Out pushed the boundaries in terms of creativity a bit more, but Soul makes up for that in (ALMOST) pitch perfect execution to a simply wonderful idea. This will definitely win best animated feature, by a mile. But as to why it is so good… well, let me explain why.
The animation. We’re talking about an animated movie, so we must talk about its animation. Pixar has always been about pushing boundaries in animation. The only company that has ever put a stitch in that is Dreamworks with their How To Train Your Dragon trilogy. Soul is no different for it does two things: blend 2D and 3D animation, as well as blending in cartoonishly designed characters with EXTREMELY PHOTO-REALISTIC backgrounds. The latter was an aspect that really turned me off to Onward. The characters just never felt like they belonged their. I felt like their designs either needed to be more exaggerated or more realistic. So Soul decided to do both. The designs of every character (in the real world) are heavily exaggerated and blend beautifully with the rest of the world. And speaking of, THE WORLD.
Pixar has reached animation levels that are almost indistinguishable from real life. There are shots that are grounded in terms of its execution and with all the animation movement coming from the crowds, I had to do a double-take just to make sure I knew what I was looking at. It does appear that with every passing movie, Pixar is just nailing this almost real animation look. I noticed it with The Good Dinosaur first, then with Incredibles 2, then with Toy Story 4, and finally with Soul. To make sum it up, I salute all the animators who made this combination work. And to the animators who designed the Great Before.
The other part of this film is the Great Before. This is where 2D animation of the Jerries (I’ll explain later) and the souls interact. The Jerries are all a mix of 2D and 3D animation — kinda similar to what Klaus did, just differently executed. This world is absolutely stunning to watch unfold in front of you. Everything is colorful, quick moving, and — in a vein sense of irony — soulful. Which brings me to the story of Soul which is… different to what I was expecting. Which I should have seen coming considering this was co-written and co-directed by Pete Docter — creator of both Up and Inside Out.
I went into this thinking this was going to be a slight adaptation of It’s A Wonderful Life, and in many ways it is. And in many it’s not even close to being that. Look, I’ll be honest, the fantasy of the Great Before is incredible in every way and it’s clear it’ll be good and creative from the outset. I never doubted for a moment that part of the movie was going to be awesome. But we only focus on that part of the movie for just a bit more than a quarter of the runtime. Soul isn’t about souls trying to discover who they are. No. No. Soul is a pretty rough and sometimes BRUTALLY honest depiction of what happens when you reevaluate your life when chasing your dreams. The human element of the movie is what drives this story as well as the animation and it does not shy away from some pretty adult material.
The story for the film follows Joe (voiced beautifully by Jamie Foxx), a middle school music teacher who finally gets a chance to live out his dream only to have a near death experience. Denying death and through a misunderstanding, Joe is paired with 22 (voiced by Tina Fey), an angry uncontrollable soul, whom he must mentor so that she can get begin her living. Now despite what the trailers will show you, most of this movie takes place in the real world, where 22 is in Joe’s body and Joe is in the body of a cat. I know it sounds dumb but the way they execute it is superb and so is what the movie is trying to talk about.
There are many scenes in this movie where Joe is faced with a pretty harsh reality as to how things have been for him. We see a man who has wasted his life chasing a dream he so desperately wanted to become true that he basically avoided every other aspect of his life. The execution for how this story is told is almost perfect, what with some pretty excellent voice acting from Jaimie Foxx and Tina Fey as well as the rest of the cast. The writing and direction by Pete Docter and Kemp Powers is unmatched. And with all things considered, this does absolute justice in terms of representation for the black community. A black man’s voice was clearly behind many aspects of the story and it shows so well. And the music (done by David Fincher collaborators Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross and from A Late Show with Stephen Colbert Jon Batiste) is just so good. It’s vibrant when it needs to be and soft when it needs to be.
Everything that is crafted here can be enjoyed by adults of many ages… and that’s unfortunately where the first real issue for this movie lies. I cannot see any kid under the age of 13 wanting to sit through something like this. Soul has many scenes that are just (forgive my pun) soul crushing if you are an adult. The complex themes and ideas at work here are far too complicated for any kid to fully grasp. Being seen as a failure in the eyes of your parents. Your depression clouding your judgement and turning you into something you’re not. Reaching your dream only to find it did nothing for you. I mean, they literally have a discussion on what death is and what life means. For God’s sakes, this is existentialism at it’s absolute finest. There is absolutely no way kids will be able to full grasp just what this movie’s message is.
It has to be said, but if you plan on showing this to your kids, I don’t think they’ll be as fully invested as you will be. So while this more adult approach for a Pixar movie might not bother people above the age of — say, 14 — I can say that this will turn off most everyone else below that line. And there are other drawbacks as well. Very minor, but still there.
One of them is Terry, an insurable Jerry who is in charge of keeping tabs of dead souls. He is voice by Rachel House and does a pretty fine job voicing him. He’s not the main antagonist of the movie, but he’s in it enough to where his scenes can sometimes stop the movie dead. They don’t even do anything with his character by the end. I found him to be more annoying than anything, and since it’s Rachel House, she’s gotta crack some jokes here and there. Some weren’t painfully bad and I’ll get to that, but I didn’t laugh as much as I think the film wanted me to. And speaking of the humor, then there’s the humor.
The humor of this movie falls flat in two categories. One of which is what I think is coined as “the Marvel Comedy”. Basically needless quips to keep the audience entertained through slower scenes. There are not as many as there were in Onward that are here, but there are enough to where you will notice it maybe once or twice. Many of these quips come from Tina Fey’s character, 22. She has moments where I’m just gritting my teeth, because I want her to stop. That’s the first reason. The second reason is that a lot of the humor is intelligent and more geared towards adults — there’s a bit with the Knicks that’ll really get ya — but otherwise, your kids probably won’t laugh as much as you will.
Lastly, there are some miscellaneous things throughout that just kinda rubbed me the wrong way. Soul does take some liberties at times in order to avoid more difficult topics or choices for the characters. There are also some moments taken directly out of other Pixar movies. If you’ve seen Inside Out, you know which scene I mean. Also, some elements of the Great Before just don’t make sense when you think about it. If a soul gets their memory wiped isn’t that just them dying in a way? Why go through this process if you’ll never remember it? Stuff like that annoyed me a bit.
So overall, how does Soul fair? What’s the final verdict?
Verdict: 4.5 out of 5 Stars
Soul is that original movie that I have been waiting for Pixar to make for a while now. The story and it’s message are incredibly powerful and will do so much for so many people everywhere. It brought me to tears and it really made me rethink some parts of my life as well. Yeah, this movie has its issues. Some plot points don’t work, the humor is forced, some characters are lacking, and this is by no means a kids’ movie as I once again have to reiterate, I cannot see a child enjoying this movie.
But that being said, the journey taken here is one that had to be told. Topics that we all will need to learn at some point. Sure, tweens and adolescent kids might not appreciate it, but I know teenagers will begin to. Young adults will too. And then as we grow, I think we’ll all come to appreciate it more and more. Soul is a really special movie that taught a lesson as old as time: don’t waste your life, ’cause you’re only gonna get one.