And now we have come full circle - all the way back around to the film I reviewed last December, which was the inspiration for this whole Pixar Point page. I wanted to see what deep-level stuff I could find in each Pixar film, and for the most part, I was successful. I would say that at least more than half of the Pixar library managed to get me in the feels in some way. When I first reviewed 'Soul', however, I mentioned how it may very well be my new favourite Pixar movie. That's a bold statement, but does it still ring true?
My reasons for enjoying this so much are really just the same reasons I hold so many of these titles close to my heart. I find that so many of these movies are able to speak to me on a personal level, but perhaps none of it did a better job than 'Soul'. I see a lot of my personality throughout the film. I enjoy jazz music for writing purposes (as I write this I'm listening to some), I relate to many concepts through the film, and I feel like I have an appreciation for subtle things we often take for granted. Take, for example, the beauty of the world on a bright, warm sunny, day. Anyone who follows my on Instagram could probably attest to a lot of my photography - nature is one of my biggest subjects.
'Soul' centers on a music teacher named Joe Gardner (Jamie Foxx) who has a fondness for jazz music, and has some magic fingers when he tickles the ivories. He loves getting his students interested in the music, and playing takes him to a pretty special place. The idea ends up being that this is another, sort of meditative plane of existence or just "the zone". It's where we go when we get deep into something we're passionate about. Joe's mother, Libba (Phylicia Rashad), disapproves of his lifestyle, and just wants him to find good, honest, steady work. She has her reasons, and Joe understands, but his dreams are important enough to keep going behind her back with it.
He gets wind from his former student, Curley (Questlove) that jazz legend Dorothea Williams (Angela Bassett) has an opening in her band. Joe auditions with them, impresses them all with his skills, and in his excitement eventually falls down a manhole to his near-death. Things fade to black, and Joe finds himself as a soul on his way to The Great Beyond. Both afraid, and with the realization his life was only just getting good, he struggles against the current, and falls into the intriguing concept of The Great Before, where new, unborn souls come from. Here, various counsellors named Jerry (Alice Braga/Richard Ayoade) prepare the souls for life on Earth. Knowing he's not supposed to be there, he poses as a mentor and is given the infamous soul #22 (Tina Fey); a soul that has made all of their instructors give up on them. While 22 is voice acted by Fey, the soul is mentioned as a non-gender concept, so we'll be going with pronouns here.
22 sees no point in living on Earth. They show Joe a set of badges on their chest, much like one would earn in Scouts. It's a series of traits given to each soul, but what's missing is the "Spark", which will allow souls to begin life on Earth. Not caring about Earth, however, 22 makes a deal with Joe that upon earning the badge, it'll go to Joe instead, so he can get back into his body and get the big break he was so close to getting. Things go without progress for 22, and eventually they meet a sign twirler named Moonwind (Graham Norton) in The Zone (the place I described earlier) who reveals to them that Joe is actually in a coma, and not quite dead. Excited, Joe leaps down towards his body, but in the confusion, 22 comes with. 22 then ends up in Joe's body, and Joe in a therapy cat.
This is pretty much where I feel the movie really gets going, and as things unfold, once again Pixar makes us appreciate so much. 22 is apprehensive about experiencing life on Earth at first, but soon picks up on a lot of stuff we, as people, take for granted in day-to-day life (as mentioned before). Director Pete Docter is easily my favourite Pixar director because of things like that. He knows how to appreciate the little things in life, and understand the bigger picture all the same. 'Up', 'Inside Out', 'WALL-E' and 'Monsters Inc.' are the other films he's credited for directing, along with the stories behind the first two 'Toy Story' films. I find each of these movies are great for kids as well as adults, as there's so much to appreciate in each of them on a deeper level. But that brings me to the question I was asked most upon first seeing this - would kids like it/get much out of it?
I think if the film has one problem, it's the use of big words and existential topics that children may not quite understand. But in a way, I'm not entirely sure kids are the target audience for this movie despite the fact that it's animated. Pixar has a knack for being a little more adult with its material, and in some regards, I might suggest this leans more towards the teens and up. That's not to say children can't get anything out of it, I just think this is an odd case where an adult might get more. In a big way, it speaks to those who are stuck in some sort of rut. There's a thing they do here with "lost souls" where the repetitive thoughts and anxieties of day-to-day life have them is a bit of a trap. This can come from negativity, like someone with depression (best illustrated near the end of the film), or it can come from being stuck in a loop of some sort.
Anyway, before I find myself a lost soul with this review (there's still a bunch I'd love to touch on), I have to admit that I still feel like this could be my favourite stand-alone Pixar movie. There's just so much to appreciate about it from my perspective. This is a movie that really makes me appreciate life, and it makes the suggestion that life is an opportunity not to take for granted. It's interesting to note that while 'WALL-E' managed to get me out walking more, 'Soul' almost seemed to pick up on the appreciation I was getting from these walks. I might say that it's a sort of "next step" for Pixar, but I wonder how much deeper they can get with things than this. 'Soul' had three Oscar nominations, including Best Animated Feature, Best Original Score (Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, by the way) and Best Sound, winning the first two and giving Pixar Oscar #11 for Best Animated Feature. But even without that awar, this one's very close to my heart, and that's not gonna change any time soon.
Writers and Directors