Happy Holidays everybody. To those who celebrate at this time of year, I hope you were able to have as merry a time as possible even if your original plans were curtailed. With so much unexpected and unusual free time around the bust Christmas period, I carved out a couple of hours last night to snuggle in and get acquainted with Pixar’s latest offering. Knowing full well what the studio can do one’s emotions in the most normal of circumstances, I was half worried and half excited about what kind of puddle I would be left in by the time the credits rolled for Soul.
Well, let me tell you, it was a big fucking puddle! Feeling very much like a cousin of 2015’s Inside Out, Soul tells the story of Joe Gardner (Jamie Foxx), a part time music teacher and aspiring Jazz pianist who, after falling down an uncovered manhole, is launched on a journey of inter dimensional self discovery on a mission to reunite his slowly departing soul with his earthly body. With a stubborn, centuries old unattached soul named ’22’ (Tina Fey) for company, the film transforms into an amazingly poignant reflection on what it means to find a defining ‘spark’, and what it means to truly ‘be alive’.
These topics are huge, and Pixar has once again outdone itself in taking themes and concepts that even some adults cannot comprehend, and moulding them into an animated family adventure that left me in awe of the story telling talent. Much like Inside Out, Soul is a film that showcases the more cerebral side of Pixar, perhaps to the extent that some younger viewers might not be able to fully grasp the picture that is being painted. But as a viewer who literally turned 31 as the clock struck midnight while watching, Soul, it hits every imaginable spot.
From a technical standpoint, the film is visually stunning. With each new Pixar release it’s always hard to imagine how they can possible improve in their next, but they do, every single time. The animation in Soul is almost unbelievable, from the abstract realisations of the ‘Great Beyond’ realms to the photo realistic renderings of the real world. We’ve come a hell of a long way since Toy Story, and my mind genuinely boggles about where we might be in another 25 years!
In the very best ways, the reputation and image of the film’s voice cast melt away into the background, allowing the audience to get fully lost in the picture. Jamie Foxx is perfect as Joe, as is Tina Fey as 22, and the two share a dynamic slightly reminiscent of Ralph and Vanellope in Wreck-It-Ralph. The best compliment I can pay Foxx and Fey is that I can’t think of much to say about them, meaning that the work they both did allowed me to get fully lost in the wider creation of the characters. There is no Eddie Murphy Donkey business going on here. Whilst we all love Murphy in Shrek, but the bridge to a real life comic persona is a very short one. In Soul, the characters simply exist in their own universe, and they are perfect.
The film is filled with a whole host of high quality supporting voice performances from the likes of Phylicia Rashad, Angela Bassett, Questlove, Daveed Diggs, Rachel House, Richard Oyoade and Graham Norton. In his small but fun role, the inclusion of Graham Norton perhaps feels like the biggest ‘out of universe’ distraction, but as a Brit and a Eurovision lover, I am perhaps more attuned to Norton’s dulcet tones than others!
Overall, Soul is nothing short of yet another Pixar masterpiece. I haven’t been this floored by one of their offerings since Coco, and in many ways the two films share some thematic tones albeit in very different cultural and aesthetic contexts. In a year in which so many big and important plans have been put on hold by so many people, Soul is a film that emphasises the beauty in the small, everyday things in life. A film that celebrates the mere concept of ‘being’, and the million tiny events and actions that come together to define one’s existence. In 2020 of all years, Soul is a cinematic reminder to never take anything for granted.