“Soul”- Movie Review

It’s funny how Disney has gone from being a successful family entertainment company to a studio-guzzling media empire. It seems like every few months we hear a new story about plans to buy-up studios and expand its conglomerate. Even I, a Disney brat since the mere age of seven, can agree that this company is a monster. Still, regardless of its continued dominance among mainstream entertainment media, our expectations remain the same, to the point of cliche. It’s become cliche to expect greatness from Disney, which makes it all the more frustrating when it seems like they’re clinging tighter and tighter to their past. I often wish they would get their mojo back. Sometimes I wonder if they have any mojo left anymore. But then, low and behold, they’ll put out a film that shows that the effort and passion is still there.

In this case, that film is Soul, a Pixar animated feature that tackles the question of all questions- what happens after we die? The film stars Jamie Fox as the voice of Joe Gardner, a middle school music teacher who’s frustrated that his dream of a career in jazz hasn’t come to fruition. When he gets the opportunity to play alongside a famous saxophonist, he’s elated. It seems that finally, finally, his big break has come. But then, just as things start going his way, Joe dies, and his soul is transported to the afterlife. Vehemently refusing to move forward into the Great Beyond, his soul is desperate to find a way back to Earth. In the midst of his desperation, he meets an unborn soul named 22 (voiced by Tina Fey), who prefers the Great Before and is disinterested in life on Earth. Together they embark on a journey to get Joe back to his life. And who knows? They might just discover the true meaning of life along the way.

two translucent blue people stand in a pizza shop
Courtesy of Walt Disney Studios via Facebook

Soul is a beautifully poignant story that explores what it means to have a purpose in life without a sliver of pretentiousness. Everything about it is seamlessly woven together- stunning animation mixed with sharp attention to detail; the environment designs, from the dedicated realism of the human world to the fantastical simplicity of the afterworld; a finely-written and clever narrative; the fleshed realizations of its central characters. This is a top notch production, technically speaking. The voice acting is no less superb. Jamie Fox puts a lot of humanity into the role of Joe Gardner. His performance conveys the perfect cocktail of likeability, relatability, and frustration that’s needed to turn Gardner into a three-dimensional figure. It’s so easy to sympathize with his struggle to make it, to find that opportunity to make his life-long dreams come true. And thanks to Fox’s performance, the script, and Pete Docter’s careful direction, the character’s frustration never teeters into annoyance. Also not to be overlooked is Tina Fey as 22. If you hadn’t told me she was in this movie, I never would have guessed that it was her. She is unrecognizable as this stubborn, borderline childish character that, again, similar to Joe Gardner, could’ve come off as annoying. But there are layers to her being that are explored and connected to the wider story. She’s just as relatable, just as interesting, and equally resonating.

In terms of structure, the film is a bit of a tease. The bare bones of the story are mapped in such a way that makes you think you’re in for a typical Pixar buddy road trip formula. While that setup is definitely still present, there are enough creative tweaks made throughout the course of the narrative to keep it engaging. I could guess early on where the film was going, but I was consistently curious about how it was going to get there. And the conclusion is no less impactful. The film’s message is handled in a mature and creative way. Mostly admirably, it’s hopeful- defining what it means to have purpose in one’s life, and learning to enjoy the little things that living has to offer.

As you can tell, I have nothing but praise for Soul. It’s an excellent movie, another great piece from Pixar. I don’t think it’ll snab a high place on my list of favorite Pixar movies, but that’s just based on personal taste. My only major concern is whether it’ll appeal to children. The film leans more towards older kids and adults, particularly kids aged twelve and up. As I said, this is a very mature movie dealing with very mature metaphysical subject matter, and I don’t know if younger kids would find it entertaining. But how would I know? It’s impossible to gage children’s reactions when you don’t have any around you and you’re watching this in your living room instead of a packed theater. But I digress. If you haven’t yet, check out Soul. Even if it doesn’t quite fit your taste, it’s worth your time for the artistic value alone.

Cosmic Grade- 4.5/5 Stars

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