Surreal, Strange, And Mind-Bogglingly Ambitious, Soul Is One Of Pixar’s Best Films
Surreal, strange, and mind-bogglingly ambitious, Pixar’s latest film Soul is as unpredictable as it is beautiful and ranks among the best films ever produced by the lauded animation studio.
Jamie Foxx stars as Joe Gardner, a high school music teacher, who’s obsessed with jazz beyond anything else, with lofty ambitions of playing piano in a real band. On the day he finally gets his big break though, he falls down a manhole cover and dies (sort of) which sends his soul to The Great Beyond.
Desperate to achieve his dreams before ‘passing on’, Joe does the unthinkable and escapes to The Great Before – the place where souls are assigned their personalities – where he meets 22 (Tina Fey) an unruly but charming soul who’s convinced that living on Earth isn’t for her.
Realising 22 may be his ticket (literally) back to Earth, Joe takes on the role of a ‘Mentor’ to 22 and tries to help her find her ‘spark’ so he can use her pass to get back to his body and his dreams of playing jazz.
Soul is one of those films that as you watch it you find yourself bewildered by the sheer audacity of what you’re seeing on the screen; it’s creative, funny, and daring in that quintessentially Pixar way, while at the same time it pushes forward the boundaries of what you thought animation was capable of.
Seriously, this is a film that takes a sledgehammer to the lingering notion that animation is somehow for children, it’s not, and Soul proves it with its incredibly ambitious worldbuilding, animation and storytelling.
In terms of animation alone, it’s a masterpiece. The film is set in two distinct worlds, New York City and the Soul World, both of which are beautifully rendered and play off each other wonderfully. New York is an assault on the senses loud, vibrant, and full of life, it’s solid and there.
Conversely, the Soul World is defined by the ethereal, everything about it is soft and strangely intangible, from the cubist void of The Great Beyond – which owes a debt of gratitude to the work of Christopher Nolan in Interstellar – to the candyfloss softness of The Great Before, it’s clear the animators at Pixar have worked tirelessly on these hitherto unimaginable worlds.
Populating these wonderful worlds we have a whole host of amazing characters as well; Joe is notably the first Black protagonist in a Pixar film and Jamie Foxx does an incredible job with the character. It would be easy to pity Joe but Fox rounds out his flaws by making him so incredibly earnest.
Similarly Tina Fey keeps 22, who could so easily be irritating keeps the character likeable because, well, because she’s Tina Fey and she’s one of the funniest people on the planet so it’s not hard to like 22 at all, to be honest.
Special praise must be given to the Counsellors as well, strange cubist figures who serve as the stewards of the Soul World, they were all hilarious in particularly Rachel House’s ‘Terry’, sure she’s basically playing the same character she did in Thor: Ragnarok but that was great, so who cares.
If I’m honest though the show was kind of stolen for me by Graham Norton’s bizarre turn as the spiritualist Moonwind, an astrotraveller sailing the great beyond on a great big pirate ship. He’s ludicrous and hilarious, and I love him.
Thematically Soul is probably most akin to co-director Pete Docter’s other work, Inside Out, they’re both slightly more cerebral than other Pixar films and ask us to look inward at ourselves and our own lives. But while Inside Out asked questions about unchecked joy, Soul examines something that feels even more relevant for the modern world.
It looks at ‘purpose’ and those lingering existential questions that have haunted us all in the dark of the night; Why are we here? What am I doing with my life? Did I make the right choice? Now, there were several times during the film where I underestimated Pixar and presumed they were going to take a crack at answering these big questions.
Interestingly though, Soul has no easy answers for audiences, there’s no cliched ending where Joe learns that life is for family or some other ‘It’s A Wonderful Life-esque ending’ instead it suggests the less than definitive answer that life is for living, and that’s about it.
I don’t think there are many animation studios out there that would have the balls to do something so bold in a genre that’s so often pigeonholed as being for kids, but then again I suppose not many animation studios are Pixar.
Soul will be streaming exclusively on Disney+ from December 25.