Soul represents another milestone for Pixar as it successfully mixes beautiful animation, inspiring music, and strong voice acting.
Directed by Pixar veteran Pete Doctor, who previously helmed Up, and Inside Out, Soul can arguably be considered his greatest triumph yet as a director. Surrounded by the brilliant cast Jamie Foxx, Tina Fey, Phylicia Rashad, and Angela Bassett, Soul is a story about life, death, and purpose.
Soul puts audiences in the shoes of Joe Gardner, a man desperate to get his shot at being a respected jazz musician. The film does a great job establishing Gardner’s fears, motivations, and dreams in only the first ten minutes. The first ten minutes also incredibly set the musical tone of the film. With one of the best soundtracks to come out of the Pixar library, Soul is an experience to the ears as much as it is a sight for the eyes. With Pixar’s animation being second to none in the industry, Soul encapsulates Gardner’s world, and that starts with the setting, New York City.
New York is one of the most popular settings in film history. It has been done time and again in the form of animation as well. Soul captures every detail of the Big Apple from the grit and grime of New York’s subways to the sometimes overwhelming daily city life New York was accustomed to pre-pandemic. As a lifelong New Yorker, this film almost has a glimpse of how life once was, a reminder of how much things have changed, and why films like this have an impact. Personally, Soul sits second to only Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse.
Soul takes audiences to a darker place than your standard kid’s movie. While Pixar has not shied away from death before, commonly having characters die as major moments for the main character, few dealt with mortality the way Soul did. Coco has multiple dead and undead characters, yet Soul approaches a similar situation with a sense of awe, wonder, and fear. There was nothing funny when Gardner meats his untimely end in the first act.
Of course, the story finds his heart and humor when introduced to Tina Fey’s 22. Eccentric, funny, and the driving force for the majority of the film, 22 feels more like your standard Pixar character relief. Yet even here, Soul manages to inject some..well, soul. The two characters play off each other quite well, another Pixar staple of pairing a serious character with a comedic one. The second act of the film, while the weakest of the three, presents you with most of your standard Disney/Pixar flair.
The third act of Soul is where it separates itself from a standard Pixar film to the top tier. Where the audience once was given the false pretense that everything will work out, a mid-third act twist kept things very interesting. Outside of our main two characters, most others feel very much background and supporting, with the antagonist of the film being mostly a non-starter, and honestly, the film would have been better without it. Soul is at its best when truly being introspecting on the meaning of life, and living each minute to the fullest. There is enough to unpack in that to last a lifetime, and more than enough for this film.
It is worth mentioning that the animation and detail on the majority Black cast of characters were great to see. While a nitpick would be spending more time with the characters in their normal bodies, the film was a good step forward for proper representation in animation. Overall, Soul was a beautiful film, and one of the better in a year where many were forced to delay and postpone. In a challenging time for audiences, Soul will feel bittersweet, hopefully, poignant, and most of all resonant. A lesson that will inspire both young and old, Soul is simply one of Pixar’s best.