Pixar’s latest feature, ‘Soul’ has finally come out and it’s been on my mind ever since. Truth be told, I wasn’t looking forward to watching this movie, it looked like it was tailor made to make you cry and question your existence and I don’t know about you but I have had enough of that this year. After finishing it for the first time, I didn’t exactly know what to feel. I knew I enjoyed it but I didn’t have any strong emotions about the movie. This led to a rewatch two days later and while I got a better grasp on what makes the movie so great, I still didn’t have that visceral feeling I usually get when watching a Pixar movie. The predetermined notion that every Pixar movie has to have this big emotional reaction out of us really altered the way I experienced the movie.
spoilers for ‘Soul’ are included in this review.
Earlier this year, Pixar’s first feature of the year, ‘Onward’ made me cry all three times I saw it. With this movie surrounding the themes of life, death and purpose, it was easy to assume that the movie would go a certain route. Thankfully, it did not. Ironically, this might be Pixar’s most uplifting movie in recent memory. The movie’s commentary on life and how it should be spent appreciating those little moments is very ambitious to tackle in a movie made for all ages, especially when it is as layered as this one. There are a few messages to take away from ‘Soul’ and the beauty of it is that it applies to you no matter the age, in fact the older you are the more it will relate. This year left most of us wondering a lot about life and what we consider to be worthy enough to remember. We think of life as this great big adventure and while you can certainly look at it that way, it’s important to look around and appreciate what’s around you. It’s the small moments you share with the people you love that you would never trade away that makes life so beautiful. Even moments of isolation where you reflect are special because it’s moments like those that make you who you are.
Unlike the majority of Pixar’s other films, ‘Soul’ left me thinking instead of feeling. A movie like this could have gone in a multitude of ways because not everyone is a Joe Gardener. Not everyone has a burning passion for something in particular, not everyone looks at life the same way Joe does which is what makes this such an interesting movie. You can’t help but apply Joe’s personality to yours and seek out the differences. On rewatch I noticed how in the opening scene Joe says he was “born to play”, that his entire purpose was to create music. It was disheartening hearing Joe say that his life ammounted to nothing because he hadn’t achieved his dreams. All of this leads to arguable one of Pixar’s best scenes ever. It’s the scene of self-reflection Joe has after having finished the gig of his dreams, he wonders what’s next and that’s when it him. Sitting down on his piano and playing spontaneously while remembering those core moments that made him who he is. Sitting down with his father listening to records, riding a bike freely as a child, eating a piece of pie alone at a diner. It is only then that he realizes that his life has been special ever since he was born. It becomes even more powerful on rewatch as you realize that it was also then that he decided to go to The Great Beyond to give his Earth Pass back to 22. The more I write about this movie, the more I fall in love with it.
In terms of filmmaking, ‘Soul’ is basically masterfully crafted. It comes as no surprise to say that this movie is gorgeously animated. This movie looks stunning in every sense, ‘Soul’ is a visual delight. While The Great Beyond and The Great Before look great, the animation truly shines with how it presents New York City. It’s only fitting that a movie about life presents it in stunning fashion. Every shot of this movie feels alive. The scenes at the jazz club are indescribable. The way the lighting hits these realistic yet clearly animated characters in such dramatic fashion is a combination I never got tired of. The incredible score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross is Oscar worthy. Just listening to it while writing this review is making me feel the emotions I felt watching the movie. Jamie Foxx and Tina Fey do a great job voicing Joe and 22. The passion and excitement comes through and truly brings these characters to life, pun intended. Angela Bassett’s Dorothea Williams makes quite the impression and Graham Norton just might find a new career in voice acting!
The fact that this movie is as fast-paced as it is, running through it’s runtime while still delivering thought-provoking concepts and an emotionally satisfying story is genuinely impressive. One thing I noticed right away on my initial viewing was how each scene was used to it’s highest potential. Every scene in this movie counts. The first act is basically cinematic perfection. Within the first scene Joe’s character is perfectly established, every interaction he has in the first ten minutes come back later to serve a bigger purpose which pay off immensely well. The Soul settings like The Great Beyond and The Great Before were visually striking. At first I thought I wanted to see more of them but it would be deviating from what the movie is truly about. The Great Beyond is some of Pixar’s greatest uses of world-building. There is this dreamlike quality about going deeper into a place that seems like it never ends.
To answer my own title for this review, ‘Soul’ is too many things to contain into just one sentence. It’s commentary on life and purpose makes you reflect on how you approached you own life. The fact that it denies us a big emotional ending but opts for an uplifting message is unexpected from Pixar but it works for this movie. Not everyone will have the same experience because everyone lives life differently and to honour that is simply wonderful. Joe and 22 are wildly different and they live life in their own ways. It only makes sense for the movie to inspire you to do the same.