Let’s begin this review with a fun dose of “Holy Crap! I am Old”. This year was the 25th anniversary of Toy Story. I was seven when the film came out and loved it to pieces. From there Pixar’s filmography has grown to include some genuine masterpieces of cinema (i.e. Wall-E, Ratatouille, Up) and some that were more focused on merchandising (All three of the Cars films). But no matter what they’ve always been top tier animation. It’s funny; while I’ve gotten older I still continue to look forward to whatever they have on the horizon. I have to assume that goes for a lot of people my age. That is why I was very excited to check out Pixar’s latest on Disney+, Soul.
“I was born to play. It’s my reason for living.”
I still remember when I went to Wall-E, it was an empty theatre with the exception of myself and a mother with her two kids a few rows in front of me. Throughout the film she kept looking back at me and I wondered, why? I then realized she must’ve assumed the 20 year old guy with long hair and a beard alone at a kid’s film was some sort of creep. But the thing is that as I’ve matured so have Pixar’s stories. We’ve gone from what do toys do when you’re not around and the truth of monsters under the bed, to the destruction and rebuilding of Earth and what are emotions and how do they affect us. So here we are at Pixar’s 23rd film Soul. And while it does retain the whimsical charm of their typical work, it may in fact be their first film aimed squarely at adults who’ve grown up watching every film they’ve made.
Joe Gardner (Jamie Foxx) is a struggling musician with a day job as a middle school teacher. When given the opportunity he’s been dreaming of an accident sends him to ‘The Great Beyond’. Now stuck in limbo he’s got to find a way to game the system to get back to Earth. In the meantime he’s teamed up with 22 (Tina Fey), a soul who has little interest in being born. Along the way the pair ends up back on Earth (Joe in the body of a cat and 22 in Joe’s body) to try and get Joe ready for his dream gig with a famous jazz singer (Angela Bassett).
“You can’t crush a soul here. That’s what life on Earth is for.”
Pixar has never shied away from heavy topics in their films. Here we’re asked to think about the importance of not just life, but the search for what one’s purpose is in their life. I am truly thankful that they have never felt the need to insult the intelligence of children. Pete Doctor knows that visuals always need to be in service to the story and yes a $150 million film looks amazing, but it is the story that makes Soul. Watching a man grapple with the internal tug of war between necessity and desire is relatable to every single person on this planet. We feel for Joe as he auditions, teaching his students, and the strained relationship with his mother. But also love seeing 22 begin to understand the beauty of Earth and life on it. Of course the man that created the most emotionally draining opening ever put on film (Up) can hit all those beats.
“Life is full of possibilities. You just need to know where to look.”
As always Pixar’s voice cast is great across the board. Foxx gives an earnest performance keeping Joe from being a whiner. Fey’s snarky attitude works well especially as 22 opens up to the possibilities of life. Their comedic chemistry is on point, but I have to give credit to the supporting cast. It was an absolute treat hearing Angela Bassett and Phylicia Rashad in Soul. Graham Norton balances the perfect amount of goofy charm. Amongst them are also Richard Ayoade, Donnell Rawlings, Questlove, and numerous others in minor roles along with Pixar’s good luck charm John Ratzenberger.
Everything I’ve said doesn’t do this film justice. Soul is the heartwarming and uplifting film we need right now. Onward was an emotional appetizer from Pixar and Soul was the main course for 2020.
Overall Score 4.5/5
Soul is streaming now on Disney+.
The Shameless Plugs
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