By Christian DiMartino
Disney/Pixar’s Soul hasn’t won the Oscar for Best Animated Feature yet… but it probably won it as soon as its trailer was revealed. After seeing Soul, chances are there won’t be much of a contest. Pixar had another movie this year, called Onward. Two Pixar movies in a year is usually cause for celebration- most people liked Onward, but it didn’t really do it for me.
Soul, on the other hand, did it for me.
What a pity that we don’t have the luxury of enjoying Soul on the big screen, the way it was intended, in all of its gorgeous glory. Some people don’t see the difference in watching a movie from home and watching one in a movie theatre, but yours truly is not “some people.” Of course, yours truly is understanding of the current situation of the world though, and is grateful to be able to see Soul, which dropped on Disney+ Christmas Day, in the first place. Since it couldn’t be viewed in a theatre though, we did our best: we turned off every light, cranked up a rather loud speaker, and let the film wash over us.
Enough about that though, to the movie itself. Soul is a lovely movie- lovely to witness, dazzling to the eye, and, quite simply, charming and funny, with a message that, while not necessarily new, is necessary considering the fiasco known as 2020. It’s a wonderful film- one that should work for children, in weird ways, but also, like Pixar’s finest, works better for adults.
Jamie Foxx is a pitch perfect wonder as Joe, a music teacher who really aspires to be a jazz musician, but is constantly reminded that it probably isn’t going to be. Joe is a rather nice fella and a good guy with connections, and one day, one of those connections lands him a gig with a legendary musician named Dorothea (Angela Bassett). All appears to be right in the world, as Dorothea is pretty wowed by Joe’s talents. He’s on top of the world… and then suddenly he is killed. As Pixar movies go, one might expect the waterworks to appear from this scene, but the film goes at it from… dare I say, a humorous angle, but it works.
Joe soon finds his soul in another dimension- an afterlife of the sorts. He is on the path to the Great Beyond whenever he realizes that he is dead, that it isn’t his time, and that he needs to return back to his body. While an afterlife agent, named Terry (Rachel House, quite funny here and in some of Taika Waititi’s films), is on the hunt for Joe’s soul, Joe’s attempts to return to life find him assuming a mentoring position for souls that are yet to be developed. It is this segment of the film that is filled with huge ideas, the kind that you’d expect from the guy who made the 2015 animated masterpiece, Inside Out (fun fact: it is the same guy). He is assigned a soul in training, named 22 (Tina Fey, her usual terrific self), who has proven to be a problem over the decades, and has no interest in experiencing the human experience. Where the rest of Soul goes, I will not necessarily dive into, but it wasn’t what I was expecting… in a great way.
The film is indeed directed by Pete Docter, who shattered and warmed our hearts with the aforementioned Inside Out and Up. Soul is a little different. For a children’s film, it is rather existential and heavy- kids could probably connect with it for its characters and its visuals. Yet as opposed to Docter’s previous two films, which could make one weep at the thought, Soul is a little gentler of a movie. It’s very nice, in many ways, and while it could still provide the feels, it also provides the feels in different ways. As someone who’s battled with depression for… too long, I found its message to be rather moving and, quite simply, right. It’s not the first time this message has been delivered, but it might be one of the first times it’s been expressed to children.
Aside from its ideas, which are huge and creative, Soul is a triumph of voice casting, visuals, and… just about all of it, really. The animation here is breathtaking- anyone who dabbles with sensory drugs will find themselves having a ball (I don’t, but I know a few). The score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross is Oscar worthy (wouldn’t be surprised if they were double nominees this year, for this and Mank). It’s a strange film in that it isn’t tremendously exciting, but it is tremendously engaging, with Joe and 22 being an odd match, but a pairing that works- Foxx and Fey kill here. Yet Soul ultimately has a lot to love, from all of the above to its great sense of humor to, quite simply, delivering the somewhat unexpected.
This has not been a good year, but Soul is the kind of delightful experience that we could use right now. Lord knows we can use an escape. This is it. I hear the Oscars calling.