Pixar has been making movies for over twenty-five years now and throughout those twenty-five years, they have done a great job of making movies that appeal to both children and adults. Whether it be a fun character for the kids to love or a deep theme that adults connect to, Pixar movies have something for everyone, which I would argue is a key piece as to why they have had so much success over the last two decades, with receiving consistent critical praise, countless awards, and huge box office results.
While most Pixar films do a great job straddling the line and making a movie that works for both kids and adults, some have leaned a bit more to one side. You could argue the Cars trilogy might lean a little more on the kid-friendly side and exist more for merchandise than as a true film (Cars 2 really solidifies this argument). You could also look at Toy Story 3 and Toy Story 4 and think they might lean a little more on the adult side, as they deal with themes of loss and finding your place in the world.
Soul is the latest entry from animation studio and it is their most mature film yet in every sense. The animation is some of their most impressive and the technicals of the film, like score and editing, is immaculate. But save for some cutely-animated blobs, there really isn’t anything for kids to enjoy. This is an existential adult journey about reinventing yourself, finding your passion, and life on the other side, all of which might be too heavy for children.
Soul follows Joe (voiced by Jamie Foxx), a middle school music teacher who is constantly trying to make it big the world of jazz. When Joe gets the gig of his life, he is so elated that he isn’t paying attention to anything around and he falls down a sewer hole. Joe’s soul wakes up as a blue, glowing blob on an escalator to the Great Beyond, while his real body is lifeless on a hospital bed. Not ready to go to the Great Beyond, Joe leaves the escalator and ends up in the Great Before, a world where souls develop personalities, quirks, and traits before being sent off to Earth. Joe must work with souls in training at the Great Before, such as 22 (voiced by Tina Fey), a soul with a pessimistic view on the concept of life, in order to return to Earth before his body dies.
Soul represents one of Pixar’s greatest animation achievements, ranking up there with films like Finding Nemo, Wall-E, and Coco. The animation shows us how far the technology has come over the last twenty-five years, yet also shows that Pixar is still wildly creative and inventive. When Joe is on Earth, it at times looks real. The detailing of the characters skin, their clothes, the lighting, all of it is so finely detailed, you can’t help but be in awe. But it’s the animation in the Great Beginning that really wowed me. It’s like the they took all the interesting aspects of Inside Out and elevated it to another level. Never before has Pixar brought us to a world like this. Little blue blobs representing souls, bold coloring, the designs of the seemingly 2-D counselors of the Great Before, the beauty of the land where people are in the zone, and the terror of the escalator going to the Great Beyond, all of it is just so creative and new and something like we’ve never. I always tend to wonder if Pixar is ever going to run out of ideas and its pieces like the scenes in the Great Before that shows their creativity is endless.
The themes of Soul are really strong for adults watching the film, but won’t connect with anyone who is younger than a teenager. This is a movie about creativity, finding your passion, appreciating how truly great life is, and finding your purpose, even if you don’t necessarily know your purpose. It looks at the idea of having a personality and what it means to be human. Joe thinks that his passion is jazz and music, but is it really? Is he more valuable doing something else? As a viewer, this really makes you question your life choices as an adult and makes you think about what you think your passions are and where you might be best suited in life. Though the film has some very funny sequences, along with entertaining and stellar voice work from Foxx and Fey, this a very heady film and one that will have you thinking about your life well after the credits roll.
Soul is very deep in its themes and is technically astonishing. The animation is as creative and beautiful as anything Pixar has ever done, the voice-work is top notch, and the score by Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross, and Jon Batiste, where Reznor and Ross do nearly all the music in the Great Before and Batiste does all the jazz arrangements, is arguably the best and most layered score of 2020. But if you’re watching this with little children, it might not exactly click for them and they may have some questions afterward. Credit to Pixar for being daring and pushing their storytelling limits and proving that animation isn’t just a genre kids.
Is Soul a new Pixar classic, ranking up there with the likes of Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Wall-E and the Toy Story franchise? As of this review, I wouldn’t rank it that high. But there has never been a Pixar movie I have thought about more after it was over than Soul, which shows that Pixar has created yet another cinematic gem that has the potential to be a classic.
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