SOUL did warm my heart even if I didn’t feel moved to tears
Pixar’s first film opened in cinemas when I was 6 years old. So, to say I have grown up with this animation house is an understatement. As they tackle their most mature topic yet – what is a soul and what is it made of? – I had high hopes that weren’t always met.
It’s interesting to note that the film was directed by Pete Docter and co-directed by Kemp Powers, due to Powers multiple contributions during the production process. I note this, because the film feels as if it is two parts, rather than one whole. There is little to fault in either part of the film, but the two worlds feel entirely separate from each other, both in tone, concept and animation. Docter and Powers have done a tremendous job with the film, but the up and down nature as we flit between the two realms felt slightly off-putting.
The film follows Joe Gardner, voiced by Jamie Foxx, a middle school music teacher who still dreams of making it big. When a freak accident leaves him in ‘The Great Beyond’ he ends up on the run in ‘The Great Before’ with Tina Fey’s Soul 22.
Whilst the concept of exploring our soul and what makes us spark is interesting and seems entirely in Pixar’s ballpark, unfortunately a large part of the film feels clichéd. Most of the twists and turns feel heavily telegraphed and when it veers in to ‘mentor from beyond the grave’ territory, I started to count in my head just how many other films I had seen with this exact plot.
The big moments of the film are filled with all the sentiment and wonder we expect from a Pixar film – what makes us who we are? What stops us from living our lives? What possibilities are we missing when we forget to look? But there is too much borrowed from other films and whilst the second act is full of necessary character development, it offers little new or different.
ACTING | CHARACTERS | DIALOGUE:
Both main characters are well developed and nuanced, each other’s chalk and cheese. Joe has only one goal, to get back to Earth and use his spark – his passion for music – to prove his life’s purpose. 22 however has no spark and doesn’t want one. If she discovers what her purpose is, she’ll be sent to Earth to live a full life. And why would anyone want that?
An element that holds the film back is that the voices are perhaps too recognizable. We’re treated to a whole treasure chest of Jerry’s and Terry’s who work in the Soul realm, but each voice is another recognisable actor (Richard Ayoade, Rachel House, even Graham Norton turns up at one point) and it took a long time for me to stop constantly thinking ‘That’s Tina Fey’ with every delivery of 22’s lines.
VISUAL EFFECTS | MAKEUP | DESIGN:
Soul is Pixar’s most daring animation yet. The studio mixes and layers multiple styles to create different realms and worlds we visit through Soul’s runtime. The animation in ‘The Great Before’ and the entire Soul Realm is a testament to the animation team within Pixar who are constantly pushing boundaries.
The third act contains a truly beautiful segment of animation which encompasses many complex issues into a visual format that feels tangible and understandable. The team’s ability to animate light and dark and play with these in the spiritual zone is outstanding.
This however is not to say that the animation on Earth is anything less than brilliant too. New York is glowing in Soul and it’s exciting to feel the hustle and bustle of a big city where our dreams are always achievable, and just around the corner.
My only quibble, which I will let slide for the purpose of this review, is why on Earth did they decide to design one of the world’s most unattractive cats? It feels out of place and like it has been ripped from another film. Justice for movie cats; they’re really having a tough time with CGI these days.
MUSIC | SCORE | SOUND DESIGN:
Being a film about a jazz musician, we’re treated to a beautiful range of music throughout the film, with jazz compositions from Jon Batiste and a score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. As always with Pixar, it is often the moments without dialogue that pull on our heartstrings the most, and Soul is no different. Whether Joe is losing himself in the moment as he gives us stunning piano solos, or we’re watching gripping moments in The Great Before – the music in Soul is truly something special.
I can’t say I was disappointed with Soul, but I equally didn’t love it. One of Pixar’s most ambitious projects, I’m still unsure if I think they bit off too much or if they didn’t go deep enough. But, to give credit where credit is due, it’s a beautiful film with a touching message, and it did warm my heart even if I didn’t feel moved to tears.
SOUL Premieres on DISNEY+ - December 25th