Unique and beautifully animated, soul is another ambitious achievement from Disney-Pixar. It can also be your most inaccessible, quasi-existential adventure, set in the quasi-existential world between the living and the dead. Pre-Heaven if you will.
Director Pete Doctor has made some of Pixar’s most inventive films, including Up, Monster’s Inc. and from the inside to the outsidewhat the closest comparison can be soul in it it also examines what is in us. What makes us tick? What motivates us to be the people we are.
But soul (which is co-governed by Kemp Powers) is radically different from from the inside to the outside, from the graphics to the concept to the overall tone. Like many other Pixar films soul is at its core an adventure movie starring poor Joe (Jamie Foxx), a black man who, after getting so close to his big break from music, falls into a sewer and presumably takes a much more deadly break from which his soul separates his body. However, he rejects Heaven and heads back to Earth with a youthful and defiant soul (Tina Fey) for a second chance.
But before he does, Joe spends some time on the astral plane (or somewhere) where two-dimensional creatures watch his behavior as they prepare new souls for a journey to Earth. During this stretch, as fascinating and brilliant as it is, my beautiful wife decided soul was a little too strange for her. My toddler loved it, but she’s two and didn’t know what the hell was going on. As for me, this part of soul was convincing but strange, seductive but not particularly entertaining.
Those looking for standard tariffs are given a little break when Joe – as a cat – returns to Earth and runs around trying to figure out how to do things right (while falling prey to a cat’s instincts). soul finds its mainstream rhythm in act two and delivers some funny gags and constant entertainment value.
In the third act it becomes strange and difficult again. Through everything soul is masterfully made, but at some point I consciously thought, “Wow, this film got way too serious.” It’s not that it gets dark (other than dealing with death, of course), but in its waning moments soul suddenly stops trying to chat a few minutes too long. While the tone resonates with some adults, if you’re expecting an animated children’s movie that, as you know, will appeal to kids throughout, soul isn’t that the movie
As creative and fascinating as soul is, the film occasionally loses sight of its ultimate purpose: to entertain. That doesn’t mean it’s not worthy, but it does mean that it’s not transcendent.
Rating by Erik Samdahl, unless otherwise stated.