What is the meaning of life? That’s a lot more ambitious than simply toys and teenage emotions coming to life. Pixar’s Soul is all about that, and a whole lot of jazz on the side.
As a result, Soul is probably Pixar’s most mature movie to date. While it’s still very much an animated movie that both kids and adults can enjoy, it’s definitely a film that the latter will be able to appreciate a lot more.
Meaning Of Life
Pixar’s Soul director Peter Docter has been responsible for three of the company’s best and most emotional movies, including Monsters Inc., Inside Out and yes, even Up. With that calibre of talent behind the production, you’ll already know what to expect from Soul.
In Soul, Joe Gardner (Jamie Foxx) is a middle-aged man stuck in dreary job teaching music when all he wants in life is a big break in being a professional jazz player. When that opportunity finally comes knocking, he meets a fatal accident and winds up having to mentor a cynical unborn soul named 22 (Tina Fey).
Joe wants to come back to life, while 22 doesn’t even have a reason to live. They end up teaching each other about the meaning of life itself in an emotional journey that’s full of twists and turns. It’s the dynamic between these two characters that carry Soul.
What is your “spark” in life? The very thing that gives your life meaning? Will fulfilling your dream or objective be enough to make your life a meaningful one? Does one require a purpose or reason to live in the first place?
These questions will resonate with adults the most, as they are more likely to relate to Joe’s problems and issues.
Soul explores the subject matter in a thoughtful manner.
The main crux of the weighty themes in Soul will likely go over the heads of younger viewers, but the great humour and gags in the movie will still keep them entertained.
Even though Soul explores metaphysical ideas like souls and the afterlife, the movie doesn’t get bogged down with trying too hard to explain itself. It introduces viewers to concepts like the Great Beyond and the Great Before, but it doesn’t go too deep into the existential well.
Despite its themes surrounding life and death, it doesn’t feel like the movie takes as many risks as Coco and Up before it.
There’s less of an emotional gut-punch waiting for you in Soul, and more of an epiphany of sorts.
It still drives home the message, but Soul doesn’t hit as hard as Coco or Up.
As a result, Soul‘s climax doesn’t feel as satisfying as other Pixar classics. It seems like the creative team couldn’t explore the heavier themes as in-depth as they wanted to. Ultimately, it’s a bit disappointing when compared with the likes of Coco and Up.
Music is rarely a big highlight of Pixar animated movies, unlike Disney movies which are often more like musicals. However, there are exceptions in movies like Coco and perhaps Brave, where the music is more prominently used.
Soul is one of those, as it’s elevated by the smooth jazz compositions of Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross and Jon Batiste.
Viewers with a keen eye can also see how much attention to detail there is in Soul.
Though I’m no musician myself, the way that human characters play musical instruments like the piano, the trombone, and the saxophone look very realistic. It must have been extremely difficult to animate them to the tunes and rhythms of the amazing jazz soundtrack.
Visually, Soul looks a lot like Inside Out, with simplified but charming designs for the souls and metaphysical worlds. However, what pops out the most is the vibrant and lively recreation of a bustling New York City brought to life in a way only Pixar can.
I also love the unique pseudo-2D and otherworldly designs of the ethereal angel-like beings who help look over these souls.
These characters are voiced by talented voice actors like Rachel House, Alice Braga, Wes Studi, and Richard Ayoade of The IT Crowd fame.
Last but not least, I recommend that you get to the cinema early to catch an adorable and cute little animated short titled Burrow. It’s in classic 2D animation and doesn’t feature any voices whatsoever, but relies on the quirky animal characters to convey its story.
Spirit & Sentimentality
Pixar’s Soul is ambitious but never reaches the heights of Up or Coco before it. Still, it’s probably the best and most unique original effort from the studio in years, especially with Pixar suffering from sequel-itis with 2018’s The Incredibles 2 and 2019’s Toy Story 4.
Still, older fans of Pixar should give Soul a chance, and they’ll find a poignant story that will probably resonate with their own souls.
FINAL SCORE: 80/100
Pixar’s Soul is now showing in selected Malaysian cinemas and on Disney Plus in selected countries.