There are not many movies that can make you feel the way Soul does. The genius of the film derives from its simplicity: a simple idea and cute story that evolves into a mini field trip of the inner self. Directors Pete Docter and Kemp Powers were able to weave together a technical achievement that is unprecedented by today’s animation standards. By mixing in the photorealistic visuals of hands hammering away at piano keys, all the way to the more minimalistic, abstract ambiance of The Great Before, Soul is a feast for the eyes. Combine all of this with masterclass storytelling, and Soul emerges as a must-watch film.
Joe (Jamie Foxx) is a middle school music teacher, but his true dream is to play in a live jazz band. After a lifetime of failed auditions and heartbreak, it seems like it is time to accept his stable position as a teacher and let go of his dreams. Then one day, out of the blue, a former student contacts him for an emergency audition. After nailing his solo, and seemingly finally getting the opportunity of a lifetime, Joe strolls carelessly right into an open manhole, and unexpectedly falls to his death. After Joe’s soul refuses to enter The Great Beyond, he stumbles his way towards The Great Before, where he meets his new student, a stubborn soul-in-the-making named “22” (Tina Fey).
Soul‘s voice acting, animation and overall design is all amazing, but the movie would have gone nowhere if it didn’t boast such a captivating engaging story. Infused with that Pixar magic, Soul is able to tell a simple tale with layers upon layers of complexity. It feels as if they started with a simple question: “what is a soul?”. The creative team then transferred their ideas onto a 100-minute animated canvas, which stays engaging throughout. The writing team, which consists of co-directors Docter and Powers, as well as Mike Jones, do this without being pretentious or obtuse. Joe and 22’s journey touches on so many things that make up our inner-selves, varying from what it means to be “in the zone” all the way to what our inner “spark” is. It is not often that a movie can make you feel joy, sadness, nostalgia, and hope all in one sitting; but Soul accomplishes this myriad of feelings.
The only downside to Soul, albeit a minor one, is the lack of time spent in The Great Before. This minimalistic starter realm for the human soul seems to be filled with so much intrigue, and it may be one of the most beautiful settings animated in a Pixar film. It would have been nice to develop this world a bit more, but it seems that the directing duo preferred to go with a “less is more” approach to an idea that is so incomprehensible that it borders on the abstract.
Soul accomplishes so much throughout its run time that it is an easy recommendation. Appropriate for all ages, this movie has the power to provide genuine entertainment and a blank slate for viewers to think about themselves a little bit. This is not some deep dive into the human psyche, it is rather a high-level exploration of what it means to be human. An animated masterpiece, Pixar’s latest does not disappoint.