Movie Review: ‘Soul’
Director: Pete Doctor
Cast: Jamie Foxx, Tina Fey, Questlove, Phylicia Rashad, Daveed Diggs, Angela Bassett, Graham Norton, Rachel House, Richard Ayoade, Alice Braga, Wes Studi, Fortune Feimster
Plot: Joe, a jazz pianist, feels like he’s gotten his big gig at last when he dies in a sudden accident. Feeling robbed of his chance, Joe’s soul escapes the path to the Great Beyond and winds up mentoring a new soul unwilling to begin their life.
Review: Sliding into streaming services comes Pixar’s newest attempt tug our heartstrings into loosening our wallets. We’re always going to make time for Pixar, as they seem to maintain an art and storytelling philosophy over commercial interests (with Cars and Toy Story being their indulgences). That brings us to Soul, an animated adventure where an ordinary man must reassess his outlook of life and what makes it worth living.
Soul is the one of the most realistic looking of Pixar’s movies with impeccable looking depictions of New York City making up the bulk of the backgrounds. The characters have a distinct cartoonish quality, but the textures and lighting effects make it easy to forget that we’re watching an animated film. Once we’ve established Joe (Foxx) as being a music teacher who is still waiting for his big break and met a few supporting characters, Joe falls down an open sewer hole and dies. Now a seperate soul, Joe flees from the ‘Great Beyond’ and finds himself in the ‘Great Before’.
This is the most interesting part of the story, as the abstract representation of philosophical concepts draws you in as and makes you want to learn more about what is happening. The Great Before is swarming with new souls waiting to be provided with personality traits and a ‘spark’ which inspires them before they can inhabit a new life on Earth. Guiding them through this process are counsellors, personifications of universal forces that are all named Jerry. They mistake Joe for a mentor, a recently deceased soul who helps new souls find their spark. Joe is paired with 22 (Fey), a soul who has been in the Great Before for eons and had thousands of mentors give up due to her stubborn and disrespectful manner.
As Joe and 22 explore the realm outside of life, Joe tries to engage her in different interests. They meet with Moonwind, a spiritual sign-spinner who can help Joe find a way back to his life in time for his big gig, and he finds a weak spot where Joe can cross back over. Things go awry when 22 winds up in Joe’s body and Joe lands in an overweight cat. They have to work together to pass for normal while they find a way to remedy the situation.
After introducing the complex visual representations of the universe beyond life, and piquing our interest in learning more about its mechanics, we land in a bodyswap/fish out of water narrative that isn’t as interesting. It’s at this point you may be wondering if the story is going to end with 22 learning what makes the world special and Joe to re-evaluate his purpose, and you’d be completely correct. When you move beyond the depiction of the afterlife and jazz soundtrack there’s a standard odd-couple story that doesn’t do much for us.
Matter of fact, there’s not much here that Pixar hasn’t tackled before. An exploration of the afterlife thematically linked to a distinct soundtrack appeared in Coco, and director Pete Doctor utilised personifications of abstract concepts in Inside Out. We were ultimately more interested in the inner world of Inside Out, and that movie’s depiction of mental health issues in an imaginative world. We love Soul‘s characters and landscapes, but we get derailed into a standard ‘the world is already beautiful’ plot set in the real world and we’re just waiting to get back to the abstract.
If it wasn’t for the stunning animation and design work, we’d struggle to view this Pixar offering as anything more than a repetition of narrative cliches in a shiny new setting.
Rating: SEVEN out of TEN