Soul tells the story of Joe Gardener, a middle school music teacher who dreams of being a jazz musician. After a shocking accident, his soul and body are separated and he must try to reunite the two while going on a journey of self-discovery.
The story here is a lot deeper than I thought. And without spoiling anything, it is quite existential without coming across as self-serving or preachy. And that I like the central theme of the movie is about finding what makes you, well you.
Interestingly enough, I didn’t know who was in this movie apart from Jamie Foxx so watching the movie, it was really cool to hear so many recognisable voices like Graham Norton, Phylicia Rashad, Angela Bassett. The beauty of the voice acting in this movie is that it does not draw you out of the film. You are wholly invested in what is going on, on-screen.
Jamie Foxx performance as Joe Gardener is the heart and soul (pun intended *wink wink*) of the film and there is a real emotional resonance there which speaks to his own talent. Joe is quite literally an ordinary guy and you see that not only in the way he is animated but in the voice performance as well. He lives a fairly ordinary and in some cases underwhelming life. And because of that, you endear yourself to him and his plight.
Tina fey plays 22, a disgruntled Soul that Joe mentors. What’s interesting about the relationship between the two characters is how similar they are while being wholly different. Their motivations are not similar (quite opposite actually) but there is a middle ground that they find fairly early on that works throughout the film. Also, Tina Fey and Jamie Foxx have great vocal chemistry. I’m not sure if they recorded together but the way they riff off each other sounds like they did. Now is 22 the most likeable character? No, but I don’t think she was intended to be. And I’m okay with that.
The stand out voice performance is definitely, Rachel House who plays Terry, the accountant of the great beyond who job it is to count all the souls. What makes the voice performance so special is the amount of emotion that Terry shows throughout the movie. As an entity, Terry is the one who keeps order and because of this, they’re pretty emotionless but as the movie goes on you see Terry’s personality. And while the movie frames them as an antagonist they are just someone who wants to do their job and keep order. and you cannot really fault them for that.
There are similarities to Inside Out that I noticed while I watched the movie and now knowing that Pete Docter directed both, I am not surprised. During the production process, he said he was thinking about human beings and where personality comes from. And this movie answers some of those questions without being too complicated. At the end, it actually made me think about my own personality and where my personality traits came from.
The main thing that made me smile is how this movie represented people of colour, especially black people. Joe exists in the world without any caveats or consequences. He is a normal guy who ends up on an extraordinary. And you get to see the way he lives his life from getting on the train to getting a hair cut. That scene in the barbershop is probably my favourite in the entire movie. It’s just so normal and indicative of the black experience as getting your hair done is something that everyone (regardless of skin colour) can relate to.
The animation in this movie is TOP TIER, probably some of the best computer-animation I have ever seen. The amount of detail in this movie is absolutely INCREDIBLE. From the rays of light to the sequences in ‘the zone’ I could not stop commenting on how GOOD the movie looks. I saw a tweet that commented on how Pixar struggled with animating people, which is why Sid and Andy look the way they do. Contrast that with this movie and the difference is as clear as night and day. There are so many different people in this movie and they all look different, with different skin tones, hair colours, AND textures. it’s a pretty accurate representation of what New York today looks like. Even down to the different types of restaurants in New York.
While writing this review, I found out that the creative team made a conscious effort to highlight the ethnic diversity in the movie. Pete Docter stated that he took into account racist imagery in animation and tried to actively avoid those stereotypes. Sentiments like this are what makes the movie special. You have a creative team that went out of its way to recognisably black.
I say this with every few movies that I watch, and this is the kind of movie where every scene looks like it could be a poster. Here is one frame.
I really wish I could show you the whole movie because it a feast for the eyes. And hearing that the cinematographer, Bradford Young worked with a lighting consultant makes all the difference.
And what I love about the visual style of this movie is that there are distinct looks within the movie. The “human world’ has a more muted colour scheme with a lot more earthy tones (see what I did there.) here is an example of what I mean.
While the great before has more pastel tones. For lack of a better word, it has a more cartoonish look.
The two contrasts may serve a story function but it makes the movie that much more aesthetically pleasing.
For a movie called Soul that is about a jazz musician, I would think that the accompanying score and soundtrack would be centred around jazz and that is exactly the case. Now, I have said multiple times that The Incredibles has my favourite Pixar score (top 10 of all time if we are keeping it a buck) and this is a close second.
Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross of Nine Inch Nails composed one aspect of the score and having on Batiste score another which creates a distinct auditory separation between the physical world and the astral one much like the animation. Even though there are two distinct musical styles, the two blends together perfectly and flow seamlessly. The jazz pieces in this movie are beautiful and really pull you into the movie, and capture your attention throughout.
About the soundtrack Batiste said
“I wanted to make something that had a really optimistic and melodic sort of feeling so people could hum the songs and sing the songs, and also have these chords that felt like the joy of life and joy of living encapsulated in these harmonies.”
And that is the best way to describe the music in this movie.
Soul is the perfect movie to watch right now. This has been a year that has made me question some of my life choices and that is exactly what happens to Joe. The whole point of the movie is that you are not all about your achievements and your personality is not just comprised of the things you like. Especially when you consider the epipjan that Joe has towards the end of the movie. (that I am not going to spoil here)
This tweet pretty much sums up how I feel about Soul.
It’s one of those movies that will mean different things to different people, depending on when they watch it. And that really is something special. Now is this my favourite Pixar movie? No. That spot is taken by The Incredibles and has not moved for yonks (and is unlikely to move), however, this is the kind of movie that I would revisit when I felt like I needed t get out of my own head for a little bit. Maybe if I was feeling a little philosophical.
Originally published at https://www.thecinematicaficionado.com on December 31, 2020.