Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Soul - Review


As an animation studio, Pixar is no stranger to weightier concepts. Each Pixar film has some message of deeper meaning under the colorful animation and delightful characters, and Soul is no different. It still has all the charm and gorgeous animation you come to expect from Pixar, but with a dash of existentialism and a very easy metaphor for the meaning of life. Yeah, Pixar is going for it this time. 

The story of Soul follows the down on his luck, middle school band teacher Joe Gardner, voiced by Jamie Foxx, on a whimsical, bold, and metaphysical adventure centered around the “spark” that makes everyone tick. Before the opening credits even begin, Joe finds himself on the wrong side of an open manhole, falling to his untimely end and setting off one of the most bizarre films in the Pixar canon.

It really shouldn’t have to be said at this point, but Pixar’s animation continues to be absolutely gorgeous. Between the strangeness of the Great Before and its new souls, to the everyday moments of joy captured on Earth, each scene presents a new thing to notice and appreciate the craft and talent needed to create something like Soul. It feels important to the film’s messaging, to find the beauty in the small things, and appreciate life as it is.

The film’s central character, Joe, who is seemingly as average as his name suggest, joins the pantheon of great Pixar characters. He dreams of existing beyond his slightly disappointing life as a band teacher, longing for a gig that will finally be his big break. And when he does get behind the piano, you can see his passion, his desire, filling the screen with a sense of musical bliss that envelopes and warms you just as it does Joe. Foxx also does a great job here, bringing a vivid form to Pixar’s first Black protagonist.

Pixar’s repertoire is full of tricks, but perhaps its greatest one is delivering wisdom through the soft touch of an animated film. With Soul, the life lessons are a little more broad than they have been in the past. The meaning of life is an immensely universal concept, and Soul tackles it in its core philosophy: hopes and dreams are what truly make life worthwhile. It’s a touching film, shocking as that may sound under the Pixar banner, but with just a hint of the profound.

It’s arguable that Soul might be Pixar’s best film since Inside Out. And considering the film feels like a spiritual follow-up to the 2015 film, that’s oddly fitting. Director Pete Docter continues his winning streak, solidifying his title as one of Pixar’s best artists, and bringing more attention to how important and intelligent animation lies at the center of the film landscape. In a year where everything is different and the holidays won’t be the same, Soul will do well to lift spirits for the whole family.

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