Pixar’s latest offering marks a return to the studio’s signature emotional and inventive outings, hopefully indicating a move away from disappointing sequels. Premiering at the BFI London Film Festival 2020 before controversially heading to streaming service Disney+, Soul importantly marks the studio’s first film with a Black lead character. With it’s existential exploration of the soul, complete with bags of heart, the film proves to be the spiritual successor to Inside Out.
Directed by Academy Award® winner Pete Docter (Inside Out, Up) Soul centres on middle-school music teacher Joe (Jamie Foxx), a failed but passionate jazz musician. He finally gets the chance of a lifetime to play with a renowned jazz band at the Half Note Club, but a fateful accident transports him to the otherworldly realm of “The Great Before”. To return to his body on Earth, Joe must mentor angsty soul 22 (Tina Fey) and help her discover her passion.
As thought provoking and profound as Inside Out, Soul is Pixar’s heartfelt exploration of existentialism. It’s a fun and life-affirming journey celebrating creativity and passions, delving into the joys and experiences of what makes life worth living. And yes it’ll undoubtedly make you cry! Split across two worlds with distinct chapters, Docter explores the main themes through the use of a typically overused genre trope, as Joe and 22 team up in a bit of side step mission. This will unquestionably be a hit with the kids, as it leads to plenty of comedic set pieces, particularly with Rachel House’s Jerry hot on their heels. But it’s in the quieter moments, such as when Joe finally opens up to his mum (Phylicia Rashad) or when 22 experiences a Sycamore seed’s graceful flight, when the film truly comes alive.
The hugely talented ensemble wonderfully bring the many characters to life, with Jamie Foxx particularly shining as the passionate jazz pianist. There’s such a depth to the star’s vocal work, particularly in the scenes which explore and celebrate his community and family connections. Proving the real comedic relief is Rachel House as the hilarious accountant Terry. The Thor: Ragnarok and Hunt for the Wilderpeople star brings her signature intensity and drive, complete with her own catchphrase, “It’s Terry time” to the role. Richard Ayoada also makes for perfect casting as sarcy but caring mentor Gerry, closely resembling Picasso’s light drawing.
Pixar have once again extraordinarily crafted a beautifully vivid new world with The Great Before and Beyond. This other-worldly plane is so tranquil, lovingly rendered with warming pastels and idyllic swathes of rolling hills and clouds. Watchmen‘s Atticus Rose and Trent Reznor’s ethereal electro score playfully adds atmosphere, proving a real contrast to Jonathan Batiste’s frenetic jazz of New York. Much like the storage of memories in Inside Out, the visual representation of how a unique combination of behaviours and interests develop into personalities is hugely inventive and wonderfully realised in the You Seminar. The creative team have affectionately captured the bustling nature of New York City, proving hugely immersive in contrast to The Great Before. The studio has also managed to top their signature transformative photorealism with exquisitely rendered characters, particularly in the jazz sequences with Saxophonist Dorothea (Angela Bassett).
A wonderfully vibrant and poignant journey celebrating life and the human experience, Soul is perhaps the most richly animated film of the year. Docter profoundly tackles the idea that in conforming to societal expectations, we’ve lost that childlike joy and awe of truly living. While not quite featuring the emotional gut punch of Inside Out and Up, there’s still a lot of heart (and soul) to Joe and 22’s quest.