Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

Soul (2020)

Image is property of Walt Disney Pictures and Pixar Animation Studios

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.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Inside Out (2015)

inside out
Image is property of Pixar Animation Studios

Inside Out – Film Review

Cast: Amy Poehler, Mindy Kaling, Bill Hader, Phyllis Smith, Lewis Black, Kaitlyn Dias, Diane Lane, Kyle MacLachlan.

Director: Pete Docter, Ronaldo Del Carmen

Synopsis: As a young girl is uprooted from Minnesota to San Francisco, her emotions, Joy, Fear, Anger, Disgust and Sadness all battle to try to keep her emotions in check

Review: ‘Do you ever look at someone and wonder “What is going on inside their head?”‘ asks a voice not long into the beginning of Pixar’s latest adventure. A question that many will have thought at some point in their lives when talking to friends or family if they’re doing something idiotic or daft. The human brain is a vast and complicated organ that makes us who we are. Throughout our own lives, we all go through different emotions, some we sometimes cannot explain. Yet rarely, if ever, has a film gone deep into the minds of someone and try to understand the maze that is the human brain. It’s little wonder that Pete Docter is one of the founding members of the Pixar Brain Trust, a group that has all powerful control of the slated movies in production, because this latest flick from Pixar is nothing short of absolute genius. 

The story focuses on that of 11 year old Riley, and the horror she goes through when her father gets a new job that forces the family to uproot for their cosy Minnesota abode to the uncomfortable new life in San Francisco. Her mind goes into overdrive and it falls to her five chief emotions: Joy, Fear, Anger, Disgust and Sadness to keep the ship that is Riley’s mind steady through this frightening storm. The emotions keep things in order in their shiny futuristic headquarters that have all of Riley’s stored memories that are represented by five islands that represent the key things that Riley holds dear in life. However when disaster strikes, and the emotions are separated in the maze of Riley’s mind, the emotions are in a race against time to sort everything out and make things right.

Pixar for many years has been the champion almost of witty, clever and just downright awesome animations in the last decade or two. You look back to the likes of the original Toy Story, The Incredibles, Finding Nemo among others. Stories that hit adults as well as kids in incredible ways that everyone in the family can enjoy, and they have come up trumps yet again with their latest creation. Emotions are what makes us all human, we all go through difficult or testing scenarios in our lives and our emotions can sometimes overpower us, or keep us in check. Thus everyone who watches this movie can relate to it, as everyone has had deep emotions about something, or someone. The concept behind how the emotions and memories work is absolutely superb in its originality and innovation, and what is also superb is the voice work. Leading the way is Amy Poheler as Joy, the lead emotion in Riley’s mind who fights to prevent the other emotions from taking control, Lewis Black brilliantly portrays Anger, Mindy Kaling is Disgust, Bill Hader as Fear and Phyllis Smith as Sadness who is starting to gain prominence as events in Riley’s life start taking turns for the worse, and the emotions are all battling for control of Riley’s mind. The voice work from everyone is outstanding, but by far the leading light (literally) is Joy who has been the mainstay emotion of Riley’s life and the one who keeps things ticking.

The movie could get very lost in the maze that represents Riley’s mind, but at its heart is a very simple story of the human brain and all of the emotions that go with it, and the power that those emotions can have. It is a very simple story that will make you laugh and cry in equal measure. The animation is pristine and top quality, as is the norm with Pixar. The studio has triumphed many times down the years and has an almost flawless track recordand this is an excellent  addition to that roster of top quality animations that the studio has produced.  Do not be surprised this bagging Pete Docter another Oscar and Ronaldo Del Carmen his first when next year’s Oscars roll around because the rest of the animated movies this year will need to produce something truly special to top Inside Out.

Original, clever, emotive and an insightful adventure into the workings of the human brain. A movie that will touch the hearts of everyone who sees it. 

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