Soul is yet another homerun not just for director Pete Docter, who is almost scary good at this point, but also one of Pixar's best.
Director: Pete Docter and Kemp Powers
Summary: A musician who has lost his passion for music is transported out of his body and must find his way back with the help of an infant soul learning about herself.
It's kind of amazing how good Pixar is at doing this right now. Not every movie they make is amazing, but even their subpar movies are at least watchable. Those more subpar entries tend to be sequels, but when Pixar is allowed to work on original material, they always produce something really amazing. Pete Docter is the chief creative officer over at Pixar and has been involved in many of their best movies. This is the third time he's directed for the animation studio, and Soul continues on from Inside Out as Docter, and co-director Kemp Powers take on something even more essential than our feelings; our very souls. Then again, Pixar is the studio that regularly makes grown-ups sob over animated toys and bugs and lonely little trash robots. Forky in Toy Story 4 was having an existential crisis about what it means to be alive. Soul is here to ask why we have our personalities, interests, and more.
This review is going to be spoiler-free because Pixar and Disney have managed not to spoil the second half of the movie in their marketing, and that is amazing. So I'm going to talk about the specifics of the first half so I don't ruin the surprise that comes in the second act. For a kid's movie, there are actually very few children in Soul. We're mostly watching the story of Joe (Jamie Foxx) as he is torn between chasing his dream of settling down for something a little safer. An accident happens just when things are looking up for Joe, and he finds himself at the Great Before. This is where the beautiful animation of Soul goes to a new level. The design of the various souls and the counselors that take care of them are stunning on a purely artistic level.
Foxx brings some real humanity to Joe and a weariness that adults will understand. But the character is also presented in a way to allow kids to understand what Joe is going through despite him being old enough to be their dad. He's an extremely sympathetic character, and from the moment that we meet him, we want him to succeed and be happy, whatever that may look like. Tina Fey is also a lot of fun as 22, a soul that Joe meets who doesn't want to go down to Earth and be born because that doesn't appeal to them. 22 has the fantastic line while in the Great Before, saying "souls can't get crushed here; that's what life on Earth is for." That explains everything you need to know about that character. The rest of the supporting players are all a ton of fun, and they become bigger parts of the story in the latter half of the movie, which we don't really want to get into here.
The same conversation that always seems to come up with high-concept Pixar movies is probably going to come up with this one, and that's whether or not kids are going to understand it. But the thing about kids is that they aren't small, dumb adults. Kids have a very unique way of looking at the world that isn't stupid; it's just very different. Being able to tap into that mindset is something that Pixar has been extremely good at since day one. They do not dumb their movies down for kids. They present art that challenges and entertains children as much as it entertains adults. That is a hard line to walk, and Pixar has threaded that needle more and more in recent years. Soul isn't the first Pixar movie of the last decade to revolve always almost entirely around the concept of death. The people at Pixar understand that kids understand the world differently than adults, but that doesn't mean they aren't capable of understanding big concepts.
This is also probably one of the most beautifully scored Pixar movie ever. We can only hope that this film will introduce jazz to an entire generation of kids who might not have listened to it before. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross truly elevate an already fantastic movie with their work and have made the music a character in itself. The very concept of jazz and music are central to Joe's life, and his life is about the relationship he wants to have with music as he gets older.
Soul has an insane amount of heart which will move anyone to tears by the end of the film. The designs and animation are top tier, and the things that Pixar has come up with for the souls and the elements of the Great Before are simply stunning. This is a universal story that anyone could understand. It's a shame we won't be able to see this one on the big screen, but it's an excellent movie to watch with the family during the holidays, provided you don't mind ugly crying in front of others.