Running Time: 102 mins.
Where Can You See It?: Disney+
Premise: Joe Gardner (voiced by Jamie Foxx) is a sad sack grade school music teacher who dreams of playing piano in a jazz band. After a modestly successful audition, Joe falls into a sewer hole and finds his soul separated from his body and that he’s been transported to the You Seminar, a center where souls develop their passions. He’s paired with a rebel soul-in-training #22 (voiced by Tina Fey), and the two embark on a journey to transport Joe’s soul back to his Earthly body.
Behind-the-Scenes: Directed by Pete Docter, a longtime member of the Pixar braintrust. Docter previously directed Up, Inside Out, and Monsters, Inc. This film was originally set for release in Summer, but pushed back due to the pandemic and ultimately released for free to Disney+ subscribers on Christmas Day. This is Pixar’s first film with a Black lead character.
The Good: The animation. Pixar has come a long way since the early days of the first Toy Story. The human characters look fantastic, with lush detail, vibrant colors and rich textures. The film’s story and themes are decidedly mature, still appropriate for kids but emotionally geared towards the adults in the room. The jazzy score from Atticus Ross and Trent Reznor is a standout. Following up their stellar, outside-the-comfort-zone work on Mank, Ross and Reznor continue to expand their considerable musical skill set, lending the film dramatic heft and resonance. There’s also a great New York Knicks joke.
The Bad: I’ve seen it twice now, and something about the story and its attempt to visualize what makes a person who they are just doesn’t click for me. Not sure if it’s the overly cartoonish look of the souls, the avant-garde two-dimensional “Jerry” characters that seem to be inspired from Don Hertzfeldt’s World of Tomorrow, or the silly body-swapping plot device involving a cat. Tina Fey seems an uninspired choice for the #22 character. It seems to strive for the same emotional beats of Inside Out, and just pales in comparison.
Should You See It?: Yes. I think most audiences will like Soul. I may have fallen victim to overly high expectations and critical hype. Hoping this one grows in esteem for me as time passes – I already think higher of it after a few days, and I’m sure I’ll revisit it again sometime soon.
Star Rating: *** out of 5 stars
Better Than: Cars, Brave, The Good Dinosaur
Worse Than: Inside Out, Coco, Up, Monsters, Inc.
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