I remember when Pixar was acquired by Disney in 2006, and fans of the animation studio’s work up until that point were absolutely appalled. Concerned, and rightly so, that the House of Mouse would destroy that “small-time studio” feel that Pixar had, it was deemed as a billion dollar catastrophe.
Despite all those reservations, it’s now clear, 14 years on, that Disney’s acquisition of the studio was a positive move for both. Pixar had the ability to create films on a much larger (aka more expensive) scale, and Disney had another studio name to add to its profitability as they began their global domination-style plan. mwahahahaha!
That’s the history lesson over with. Now, as we approach the end of 2020, and with the world completely turned upside down by the coronavirus pandemic, Pixar’s latest film, Soul, released directly to Disney+ is just the film we needed to turn our frowns upside down. But how good is it?
Joe (voiced by Jamie Foxx) is a middle-school band teacher whose life hasn’t quite gone the way he expected. His true passion is jazz – and he’s good. But when he travels to another realm to help someone find their passion, he soon discovers what it means to have soul.
Soul is arguably Pixar’s most mature film yet, tackling a number of themes from the meaning of life to how our personalities can shape the human beings that we become from birth. Couple this with gorgeous animation and wonderful voice-work and you have what is one of Pixar’s best films, and with a back catalogue that includes Inside Out, The Incredibles, Wall-E and of course, Toy Story, that really is saying something.
Jamie Foxx’s performance as Joe creates a multi-faceted character that is a joyful protagonist, and Tina Fey steals the show as 22, a human soul scared of finally coming to earth (and who blames her, let’s be honest). Watch out for Rachel House’s amazing turn as Terry, a Soul Counter in The Great Beyond, who has some of the film’s funniest moments. The characters really do feel fleshed out, even from the outset as director Pete Docter cleverly shares insights into their backgrounds with simple lines of dialogue as well as photographs and interior decor.
As a musician myself, Soul really does speak to me, and the score by Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross and Jon Batiste is absolutely sublime. An intriguing mix of jazz and experimental orchestral music, this is probably the best score in Pixar’s stable, just because of how many different layers it brings. Whether our characters are in New York City or The Great Before, the score perfectly reflects each of these vibrant locations.
And it’s in The Great Before that the film succeeds the most. The amazing animation style of the Soul Counselers and their location really adds a unique quality to the film that helps it stand out from what has become an incredibly cluttered genre over the last few years.
It’s not all perfect. While the story does deal with some pretty mature themes, the usual tearjerker trait that you’ll find in all four Toy Story movies, as well as Up and Monsters, Inc just isn’t quite there, and that’s a bit of a shame. The plot also tries to juggle quite a few different themes and doesn’t know what to do with them all, leaving a few loose ends as the end credits roll – but this doesn’t really detract from the experience.
Overall, Soul is a triumph for Pixar. It’s true that it does bear more than a passing resemblance to Inside Out, but this is a truly magnificent film from a studio that has clearly got its mojo back. It’s not too often that an animated film feels truly groundbreaking anymore, but Soul manages to be just that, and a beautiful way to see off 2020 – life is something we all need to live; every single minute of it.