Movie Review: Disney and Pixar’s “Soul”
Disney-Pixar’s Soul debuts in just a few days exclusively on Disney+! I received a screener this week just in advance of its Christmas Day – December 25th, 2020 – debut. Originally Soul was to release in theaters earlier this year, the second Pixar film of 2020 after Onward (which made a brief theater bow before landing on Disney+). Soul is another gift to those who have Disney+. The film is directed by Pete Docter and Kemp Powers.
From Disney about Soul: What is it that makes you…YOU? This December, Pixar Animation Studios’ all-new feature film “Soul” introduces Joe Gardner (voice of Jamie Foxx) – a middle-school band teacher who gets the chance of a lifetime to play at the best jazz club in town. But one small misstep takes him from the streets of New York City to The Great Before – a fantastical place where new souls get their personalities, quirks and interests before they go to Earth.
At the beginning of Soul, Joe Gardner is told he is being promoted to a full-time music teacher. Where many people would consider that a wonderful thing to have job security and benefits, it is the opposite for Gardner. His passion is playing jazz music and not teaching it. His dad passed along that passion and love for the music but Gardner’s mom (Phylicia Rashad) also encourages him to take the stability saying, “You can’t eat dreams for breakfast”. Gardner tells here that he’s afraid if he died today, his life would have amounted to nothing. His life seems to be in full swing when he gets a gig with the Dorothea Williams (Angela Bassett) Jazz Quartet.
As his life looks up, he ends up going down – into a manhole. Gardner ends up in The Great Before, where he meets soul 22 (Tina Fey). 22 has no desire to go to earth and has put a variety of other mentors through the wringer (including making Mother Teresa cry). At this point, it becomes a bit of a buddy comedy with Joe’s soul ending up in the body of therapy cat Mr. Mittens. 22 takes over the body of Joe. All Joe Gardner wants is his chance to make the most of his life, and 22 wants to find her spark.
Soul is not the type of movie that one can keep half an eye on while distracted. There is a lot going on on different levels. And while Joe Gardner does not feel that he has lived a meaningful life, there is a sequence of flashbacks that prove otherwise.
There are also five counselors all called Jerry, my favorite is voiced by Richard Ayoade (one of my favorite actor/comedians). In The Art of Soul, the filmmakers said, “Design-wise it was imperative that the counselors felt otherworldly and special”. While “The Art of” books don’t tend to have as much text these days, it does help in a film like Soul to have more information on the abstract ideas of the film – like how the filmmakers came up with the design of the souls to embody the essence of a person.
The animation is gorgeous. And Grammy-nominated Jon Batiste produced the jazz. The animators studied Batiste’s playing from how his fingers move to his breaths to make the playing as authentic as possible.
If you have Disney+, I recommend Soul. And don’t forget the animated short Burrow, which was meant to precede it in the movie theater. It is a delight!