Directed by: Pete Docter and Kemp Powers
Premise: An animated film. A musician (voice of Jamie Foxx) has a serious accident and his soul leaves his body. He tries to get back to the physical world and reunite with his body with the help of a soul (voice of Tina Fey) who hasn’t experienced life yet.
What Works: Pixar has generally succeeded in balancing commercial appeals with artistic ambition and Soul is one of the studio’s greatest achievements. This is yet another example of the way in which Pixar has been on the cutting edge of animation. Soul takes place in both the physical world and in the spiritual realm and each of those settings is rendered with imagination and detail. A lot of Pixar’s films focus on non-human characters like toys, cars, and animals. This allowed the animation some latitude in its style. The characters of Soul are human and the filmmakers have stepped up the quality of the animation. The people and settings of the physical world are rendered with great detail and a vivid visual texture. The spiritual realm of Soul shows great imagination; it’s an entirely separate world and yet it fits hand-in-glove with the physical realm. The design and conception of the spiritual plane is also impressive in the way it supports the themes of the story. Soul deals with big and abstract ideas and the filmmakers find ways to visualize them. But they do so without overly concretizing the concepts; the spiritual world maintains a mysteriousness befitting its more flexible reality. In dealing with big ideas like spirituality and meaning, Soul swings for the fences and it mostly delivers on its ambitions. This film pulls some of the familiar switches seen in Pixar stories in which the protagonist questions what he wants and the story deals with some of the same themes previously addressed in Toy Story 4 but Soul does them better and with greater impact. The film is an exploration of the meaning of life and it presents those cerebral ideas within a fun and entertaining story.
What Doesn’t: Soul is more mature than any of Pixar’s other feature films. It’s not inappropriate for children but Soul is more likely to be appreciated by teens and adults than by very young viewers. The humor is more sophisticated and the themes and ideas are abstract in ways that make Soul a little more intellectual than Pixar’s signature films. Those aren’t faults of the movie but Soul may not entertain young viewers in the same way as Toy Story and Finding Nemo.
DVD extras: Currently available on Disney+.
Bottom Line: Soul ranks alongside the original Toy Story, Up, and Inside Out among the top tier of Pixar’s feature films. This is a highly satisfying piece of entertainment as well as an ambitious dramatization of philosophical ideas that exemplifies what animation can do.
Episode: #836 (January 24, 2021)