Soul – Film Review
Cast: Jamie Foxx, Tina Fey, Tina Fey, Questlove, Phylicia Rashad, Daveed Diggs, Angela Bassett, Graham Norton
Directors: Pete Docter and Kemp Powers
Synopsis: When his soul is separated from his body after an accident, a passionate about jazz musician finds himself in a mysterious realm called the Great Before, a place where new souls get their personality traits before heading to Earth.
Review: As each and everyone one of us goes through life, we will have undoubtedly asked those many existential questions. Questions that we can spend a considerable portion of our lives striving to find the answers to. For instance, what is the meaning of life? Or what is the the thing that we feel like we were put on this Earth to do? The films from animation giants Pixar, especially those from Pete Docter, have attempted to pose some answers to those existential questions. These questions have been posed to a whole range of beings, from monsters, to humans, and even to emotions themselves. Yet with his fourth film with the animation powerhouse, this could well be the most profound look at life, and existence that studio has produced to date.
Joe Gardner (Foxx) is a passionate jazz musician, who earns his living as a middle school band teacher. However, he dreams of being a full time jazz musician, but the opportunities to make that possible are becoming increasingly rare. However, when the chance to play for a prestigious jazz band fronted by Dorothea Williams (Bassett) opens up, Joe is given a shot and is determined to land the permanent gig. But before he has the chance to perform, and to do what he loves the most, an accident separates Joe’s soul from his body. His soul lands onto the path to the Great Beyond, a destination for souls to go once they have lived their lives on Earth. Believing he still has more to give, Joe escapes and instead finds himself in The Great Before, a place where new souls go before heading to Earth.
It’s here in The Great Before that he gets paired up with Soul #22 (Fey), a fledgling soul who is completely disinterested about leaving the Great Before to have a life on Earth. Joe must do all he can to help #22 realise that a life on Earth is worth living, whilst trying to return to his own body before it is too late. The screenplay, by co-directors Docter, Powers and Mike Jones is perhaps the most contemplative screenplay that the studio has brought to fruition. While they’ve never been afraid to attempt to answer those burning questions that many of us have about our existence, they take it a step further with some deep probing about the lives we lead, what our passions are, and is this thing that we call life really worth pursuing in the first place?
Marking the first time that a Black character has been the lead in a Pixar film, Foxx’s voice work is excellent. He gives Joe Gardner a distinct personality and a desire to achieve his dream that anyone watching, no matter what their hopes and aspirations are, can easily connect with. Alongside him, Tina Fey lends her brilliant comedic talents to tremendous effect as the soul that couldn’t be less interested in what it means to have a life on this world. They are complete polar opposites, which gives the dynamic that they share ample opportunities for some excellent comedic moments. However, for all the strength of the voice work, and the significant step forward for representation on screen, the majority of the supporting characters don’t have a great deal of screen time. Furthermore, there’s one aspect of the film that could be seen as problematic and a hindrance to the film’s attempts to make positive, forward strides in terms of representation.
With Pixar, it is practically a sure bet that the animation is going to be outstanding. While this is once again the case, the work done for this film is something truly exceptional, and some of the best work that the studio has produced. Not only is the vibrancy of New York City and the atmosphere (at least pre-pandemic) brought to life in such rich and incredible detail. Furthermore, the imagination and the vivid colours of the places like The Great Before are also absolutely stunning, and they are perfectly complemented by ethereal score from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. While taking on such fundamental aspects of life, there’s only so much that can be tackled over the course of one feature length film. Yet, as they have proved through their previous films, Pixar have delivered another bold and profound piece of storytelling.
It might lack the emotional punch of some of the studio’s previous work, but with gorgeous animation and a bold and contemplative look at the lives we lead, Soul is another splendid addition to Pixar’s filmography.