Produced by: Dana Murray
Directed by: Pete Docter
Starring: Jamie Foxx, Tina Fey, Questlove, Phylicia Rashad, Daveed Diggs, Angela Bassett, Richard Ayoade, Alice Braga, Wes Studi, Fortune Feimster, Rachel House
Runtime: 106 minutes
The year 2020, has proven to be a challenging year for all of us as the pandemic has forced humanity to adapt. People have been forced to change the way we move and interact with others, businesses have had to evolve as well. The movie and television industry are no exception as a lot of productions all over the world were stalled and many that were set to debut in cinemas were postponed to a later date for obvious reasons. This is an unfortunate situation that has forced studios to play their hand to either wait for the pandemic with no clear end in sight to subside or to migrate many of their big features to the home screens.
No one knows the long-term effects this pandemic will have on the industry. It is uncertain whether this current approach will be a temporary reprieve or the catalyst that changes the distribution of movies and television as we know it. I do not have the answers, but I do know that Disney Pixar’s latest offering Soul, is one of many movies this year that was originally meant to be a theatrical release and is now being repurposed as a Disney+ original (it still has theatrical releases in regions where the service is not yet available in).
Directed by Peter Docter who previously helmed some of the legendary studio’s greatest works that include Monsters Inc. (2001), Up (2009) & Inside Out (2015), Soul follows Joe Gardener (Jamie Foxx), an extremely talented but down on his luck part-time middle school band teacher with big dreams of performing Jazz on the big stage. Things finally begin to go his way as he gets a full-time offer from his school and he also gets an offer to play with Jazz legend Dorothea Williams (Angela Bassett). As he begins to take the steps towards a new chapter in his life the cruel strings of fate pull him towards an unfortunate accident that ends his life.
Joe’s soul is taken from his body and placed in an escalator that is set for a course to the “Great Beyond”. Refusing to go into the light before his big break, Joe jumps of the escalator and finds himself in another plane of existence called the “Great Before” where soul counselors, all conveniently named Jerry (Richard Ayoade, Alice Braga, Wes Studi, Fortune Feimster) set up young souls for life on Earth. In a bid to get back to his body Joe accepts an offer from the counsellors to guide 22 (Tina Fey), a skeptical soul who has remained in the Great Before for thousands of years and sees no point in living on Earth. As Joe’s time is running out he is also chased by a soul counter suitably named Terry (Rachel House) who is set on making sure all the souls that are meant to go to the Great Beyond are accounted for. This situation leaves the movie asking if Joe, a man who has lived a fairly unspectacular life can provide 22 with a spark that will make her want to give life on Earth a shot.
- The heart and soul (pun intended) of the movie lies solely on Jamie Foxx and Tina Fey’s performances as Joe Gardener and 22 respectively. The comedic duo carries the movie with aplomb as Jamie Foxx plays the straight man of the two and Tina Fey brings the wit, charm, and sarcasm required from 22. Their interactions with each other and the environments they visit bring out the film’s biggest laughs and emotional moments. While their performances do the heavy lifting, they are also backed by a solid supporting cast that includes the likes of Angela Bassett who plays a no-nonsense Dorothea Williams to Phylicia Rashad’s turn as Libba Gardener, Joe’s pragmatic and supportive Mother who yearns for him to temper his passion and live a life that has stability. Comedian Donnell Rawlings in his minuscule role as Joe’s barber provides one of the film’s best moments. The most notable performers from the supporting cast are probably the soul counselor’s Jerry portrayed by multiple actors and Terry played by Rachel House who hilariously starts trailing Joe and 22 to fill the counter.
- Soul is simply a visual feast for the eyes. The character designs are perfect it encapsulates their personalities and you can get a grip of their story just by looking at them. The film visuals become transcendent when we see locations like the Great Before and Beyond, or when characters enter the zone, a moment when people lose themselves in their craft or passion. Even in familiar settings like the New York the film still comes in with a lot of character. A personal visual highlight for me were the ethereal Jerry and Terry who do not conform to standards of the other character in terms of their movements and their interactions with the environment.
- The movie’s soundtrack, composed by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross gives the movie additional layers. The jazz tunes played are great and must simply be heard and it also boasts a very ethereal and electronic sound that helps conceptualize the films vision of the afterlife.
- The film’s themes are ones that will resonate with the crowd regardless of their age. Through Joe’s plight and 22’s struggle to find the spark that gives her a reason to go to earth, the film questions whether we are born with a specific purpose or if we are just meant to live. While this is a particularly difficult topic to frame a story around, the film presents its talking points in a manner that will tug at the audience’s emotional strings and will leave you pondering by the time the curtain calls. While it doesn’t hit the emotional heights of Docter’s previous work, Soul succeeds in articulating its themes and is sure to leave a lasting impression on the audience.
- While entertaining, the film’s second act relegates itself to some tired tropes that takes the film through some rather predictable story beets. I feel like this act in particular while it important to the narrative, creates the impression that there was a bit of indecision in which direction to take the movie.
- A personal nitpick of mine is that, I feel that the movie didn’t fully explore its jazz motive and culture that forms the backdrop of the film’s narrative and it missed an opportunity to truly stand out in the studio’s portfolio of unique offerings. This movie also marks the first occasion that the studio has used a black character and culture to lead the story. While I fully appreciate the representation, some might feel like the story never fully commits to it and might view it as footnote in what for the most part has been a fantastic story.
Soul is an ambitious tale about life on Earth and beyond that doesn’t quite reach the same heights as Pixar’s greatest hits. Despite falling short of reaching the upper echelon of greatness, Soul is still a marvelous visual, auditory, and thought-provoking delight that will leave a lasting impression