Feature Length Films

Mr. Khan’s Review on Soul (2020)

A review on Animated feature length film, , Soul (2020). It is directed by Pete Docter (Monsters Inc. (2001), Up (2009), Inside Out (2015) ) and is produced by Pixar Animation Studios and Walt Disney Pictures. The film is also distributed by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures and is a Disney Plus Original film.

+ Crew

  • Directed by Pete Docter 
  • Cinematography by Matt Aspbury & Ian Megibben
  • Written by Pete Docter, Mike Jones & Kemp Powers
  • Music by Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross
  • Edited by Kevin Nolting
  • Produced by Dana Murray

+ Note

Soul is the fourth animated film directed by Peter Docter for Pixar Animation Studios. The theme of the film is very familiar territory for Docter as it once again deals with concepts of human personalities, determinism and of course, the human Soul. Since the main protagonist of the film is a Jazz musician, the music plays an important role throughout the movie. Soul was first premiered in October 2020 at London Film Festival and then was released in December 2020 as a ‘Disney Plus Original’ film, exclusive on their streaming service.

+ Main Cast

  1. Jamie Foxx as Joe Gardner
  2. Tina Fey as 22
  3. Graham Norton as Moonwind
  4. Rachel House as Terry
  5. Alice Braga and Richard Ayoade as two of the soul counselors 
  6. Phylicia Rashad as Libba Gardner
  7. Donnell Rawlings as Dez
  8. Questlove as Lamont “Curley” Baker
  9. Angela Bassett as Dorothea Williams

+ Plot

Joe Gardner (Jamie Foxx) gets by as a High school music teacher in the heart of New York City when suddenly, out of sheer luck, lands a huge gig at a local Jazz club. As Joe prepares for his big break, he accidently falls into a manhole and his Soul ends up in the ‘Great Beyond’. There, he meets another fellow soul named “22” (Tina Fey) who is in search of her special “spark” which will allow her to be born and start her life on Planet Earth. 

Together, they must help each other and find a way to reach their goals and discover throughout their odyssey, what it means to have a Soul.

+ High Points

i – I guess this is always a ‘no-brainer’ compliment for Pixar films but the animation is absolutely gorgeous to look at. The beautiful lighting effects (especially scenes on Earth) brings out the warmth from the screen and onto your hearts.

ii – The character designs are brilliantly thought-out and executed. Although the facial features are exaggerated, they never feel too “cartoony” or stray away from reality too far. 

iii – The designs of soul counselors are especially unique (kinda like Apple “Mac Finder”-esque) and creative. They lack details or a coherent body structure but play beautifully to the concept of beings who handle the abstract land of ‘Great Beyond’.

iv – The film is simply outstanding with the more “quieter” moments of the story where instead of dialogue; the music, animation and visuals consume the screen. Even though Pixar/ Disney is a big money making conglomerate, such scenes show that it still inherits that creative spark; the spark that made Pixar resonate so much with the audiences to begin with. 

v – Joe Gardner is a sympathetic and lovable main protagonist with whom people from different parts of the world can relate to.

vi – Even though the subject matter deals with the afterlife, Soul never becomes religious or preachy but keeps a good balance with people all over the world with different faiths (or none for that matter).

vii – The voice acting is great from everyone involved. No celebrity voice felt forced or out of place with the overall theme of the film.

viii – Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross have done a fantastic job with the Soundtrack of the film. They had the daunting task to make the music a central part of the film and they delivered in spades. The “In the Zone” scenes were probably the biggest highlight of the movie.

+ Low Points

i – As a fan of Docter’s previous Pixar film Inside Out (2009), the biggest disappointment for me was the plot of the film itself. It was once again treading the same waters as before of determination, Persona, finding oneself. Did ‘Soul’ have anything new to say? Not really.

ii – Some of the comedy doesn’t work and unnecessarily drags the movie. Why did the cat have to give a haircut? Why the madcap subway chase? It seemed that the film was struggling with what it really wants to be; An honest, spiritual look at what makes human life special or an odd couple, hijinx comedy of errors?

iii – It is obvious that Pixar’s spark as a creative force in Animation has been massively subdued since pairing with Disney Animation Studios and unfortunately, it still shows. The overall structure of the film is nothing more than a list of checkmarks that need to be fulfilled in order to please the audience (and the company’s stockholders!). Challenge the audience’s intelligence a bit like WALL- E (2008), don’t hand them solutions to conflicts on a silver platter like any other regular animation studio.

iv – Speaking of conflicts, they just felt really unconvincing and seemed like they were only added as a necessity to have a conclusive, feel good resolution to the film. The Cat/ Human switch did not make much sense but hey, talking animals are always funny, right?

v – The last act of the film was forcefully wrapped into a neat little package and made no sense to the overall theme of the film. I’ve elaborated it a bit further… 

NOTE: SPOILER ALERT! (Skip ahead to the “Overall” if you would like to avoid it)

The “Noble” sacrifice by Gardner never paid off and was immediately reversed in order to have a happy ending to the film. Why does he get his life back but no one else on the conveyor belt? Why tease this bold move if you don’t have the guts to go through with it? Children films have successfully dealt with issues like death before (The Lion King (1994), The Land Before Time (1988)) so it can be done. At times, it is necessary for kids to learn that not everything works out in Life the way you want it.

+ Overall

Soul does bring out the best in Pixar when it comes to animation, voice acting and music but unfortunately, it is quite lacklustre when compared to their other long list of great films. There are a couple of really great sequences and It’s still a fun time with the kids but don’t expect this experience to be a memorable one.

Rate: 3.25 out of 5 stars

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