Soul was supposed to be released in theaters back in June, but thanks to COVID-19, it’s now set to hit Disney+ – for free – on Christmas Day. That’s perhaps the best outcome for Pixar’s latest animated feature, not because it isn’t good enough for a theatrical run, but because it might have struggled to draw an audience even without a pandemic to deal with. Again, that’s not a reflection on the movie’s quality – this is one of Pixar’s best – but with such a quirky tone and a lot of very grown up issues to deal with, Soul definitely isn’t a typical Disney story. That’s not a bad thing, though, as it feels like a refreshing change of pace which will hopefully lead to similarly bold creative decisions from Pixar in future.
That’s not to say the studio hasn’t taken risks in the past, but it’s a nice change of pace to see them tackle something other than commercially friendly fare like Toy Story 4 and Onward. Both of those were, of course, phenomenal, but Soul is more akin to those shorts which make use of ideas and visuals you’d never expect to see in a feature-length project. That’s exciting for so many reasons, but the fact the studio pulls it off and delivers a masterpiece of a movie is extremely rewarding to see.
Directed by Pete Docter and co-directed by Kemp Powers, Soul revolves around music teacher Joe Gardner. After finally getting the opportunity to play jazz on stage, an untimely accident sees his soul sent on its way to the Great Beyond. Escaping to the Great Before (where souls are made before they’re born), he meets 22, and what follows is a heart-warming, powerful look at what it means to be alive as Joel does whatever it takes to get back to his body and fulfil his lifelong dream.
The movie deals with the idea of life and death in some very strange, unique ways, and that’s reflected in Soul‘s beautiful visuals. It’s often breathtaking to look at, and like Coco, brings some new ideas to the table which go a long way in ensuring this doesn’t feel like just another Pixar movie. Even when things do get a weird, it’s never in a bad way or one that makes what’s playing out on screen hard to understand (the material might be a little too heavy for some younger viewers, but it should still appeal to older kids). Ultimately, it proves to be a beautiful story which will definitely stop and make you think about life and exactly what you are – or aren’t – put on this planet to do. As a result, it’s quite easily one of Pixar’s most memorable adventures, not to mention a poignant, visually stunning love letter to jazz.
You don’t have to be a huge fan of jazz to appreciate what Soul is attempting to get across in its message, but like La La Land, don’t be surprised if this makes you a fan! Accompanying that is a delightfully unique score from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross; they’re not two names you’d ever think to associate with Pixar, but for this movie, the studio couldn’t have found a better team.
It won’t surprise you to learn that Jamie Foxx is terrific from start to finish, as is Tina Fey as his co-star 22. Angela Bassett, Daveed Diggs, Rachel House, and Graham Norton (yes, that Graham Norton) are among the impressive ensemble cast, and there’s nothing bad to say about anyone’s work. However, a special mention deserves to go to Donnell Rawlings as Dez, Joe’s barber. His performance is a standout, and the scenes he shares with Foxx emphasizes just what a well-written (Pete Docter, Mike Jones, and Kemp Powers all receive writing credits) tale this is. With diverse faces behind and in front of the “camera,” Soul feels like another big win for Pixar and diversity in film.
One of Pixar’s most beautiful, poignant films, Soul often heads to some weird places, but does so in a way that will stick with you and leave you with a lot to think about.