Soulful & Heartwarming
For the first two acts of Soul, Pixar’s latest animation is easily some of the studio’s best work. The animation is crisp, the ideas unique and there’s some strong themes about passion and finding one’s purpose that gives this a suitable layer of depth.
Like a musician hitting a bum note though, Soul misfires its third act which feels at odds with most of the film’s ideas.
According to IMDB, the synopsis for Soul reads that this is a film about a musician who’s lost his passion for music. That, by the way, is not accurate. The movie follows a passionate jazz musician-come-school teacher called Joe. He longs to make it in the big time but for now ekes his way through teaching others how to play the very music he longs to be on stage performing.
Despite being given a full time role at the school, Joe deliberates when he receives a chance call with a possible big musical break. Jazz musician Dorothea is in town and she’s looking for piano players; it’s just the ticket Joe needs to make his dreams a reality.
On his way home though, Joe falls down a manhole and finds himself transported out of his body to a strange spiritual world called The Great Beyond. Complete with a cute cyan avatar, Joe upsets the balance of this world by jet-setting to The Great Before; a sort of gateway between Earth and the afterlife.
Shades of Inside Out ring through here as we’re introduced to an incredibly imaginative world, one full of unique ideas that play on those earlier mentioned motifs about finding one’s passion, living life to its fullest and working hard to achieve your dreams. These are great lessons to take through life and the film does everything it can to reinforce this as much as possible.
Following Joe’s journey to get back to Earth is a rogue wild-child known as “Number 22”; this world’s version of a problem child. Despite being mentored by some of the world’s most brilliant minds, 22 just can’t find her purpose and that falls into the unlikely lap of Joe to try and figure out.
I won’t spoil too much here but suffice to say the film follows a predictable pattern for much of the remaining run-time, with 22 and Joe learning from one another as they go on their journey to Earth and back again. The third act however, is where the film loses a lot of its charm, scrambling to resolve character and plot arcs but losing sight of its original message along the way.
Throughout Soul there’s hints that Joe will go through a career change; Jazz isn’t so much a passion but more a gateway to something he’s actually destined to do (again, reinforcing the whole “Great Before.”) The movie actually gives subtle hints that it’s going to go this route for the first 2 acts but unfortunately never really pulls the trigger when it matters.
In fact, the film just sort of ends with a satisfying but slightly hollow finish that never really follows up on some of the earlier elements of the movie. I’m being careful not to get into spoiler territory here but suffice to say the ending does subvert expectations – and not in a good way.
Visually though, Soul is an absolutely treat. In fact, Soul is one of the best looking movies Pixar have put together. Both the aesthetic and colours chosen are absolutely exquisite. On Earth, the colours are grounded, with much more emphasis on facial expressions and human features.
Off Earth however, imaginative neon-lit colours combine with some great world building to make this a real feast for the eyes. There’s even some clever lighting tricks too, which slowly fade parts of the scene to give the impression you’re watching a stage musical. It really is magical at times.
Despite its ending, Soul has a lot going for it and the title of the film cleverly works as a double entendre. On the one hand, this is a movie about soul jazz music and plays out as a celebratory look at its deep-rooted origins in African-American history. With a predominantly black cast, Soul does well to really celebrate these influences and the film does so without beating you over the head with its themes.
At the same time, it also looks at what makes up your soul and specifically what makes human beings so special.
As one would expect, the soundtrack is absolutely electric too and this is only matched by the voice acting, which is very good all round. There’s a decent amount of comedy talent involved in this project, including Tina Fey as mischievous 22 and Richard Ayoade serving as Counselor Jerry in The Great Before, armed with that classic British wit and sarcasm.
Soul may not be Pixar’s best picture but it is a very good film nonetheless. It’s a wonderful animation with roots steeped in African-American influences. The story is interesting, full of imaginative ideas but it just seems to run out of steam by the end which is a real shame. Given the Christmas Day release though, kids and families should absolutely love this soulful Pixar picture.
Soul Releases On Disney+ On December 25th 2020