With most theaters still shut down, Disney decided to release Pixar’s latest animated film, Soul, on Disney+ instead of pushing it back any further. This time, there were no extra fees like there was for Mulan. It seems that they are testing out which method of allowing audiences to see their films will work best for the time being. Soul is Pixar’s 23rd feature film, so there are definitely certain expectations going into it. Does it meet the expectations many have after hits like Toy Story or Up? Is it worth subscribing to Disney+ for? Let’s do some soul-searching to find out.
It goes without saying that Pixar is known for their beautiful animation, and Soul is no different. The character designs, the environments, and the movements of characters and objects look so real it’s easy to believe it’s actually happening. What stands out about Soul’s animation compared to other modern 3D animated films is the way it blends some different styles. Seeing flat, 2D characters like the Jerrys interact with 3D characters like Joe and 22 is certainly something to marvel at. Similarly, seeing Terry, another 2D character, move around the 3D world of Earth is just as unique to see and leads to a lot of fun visuals. Also, the contrast between the Great Before and Earth adds a rarely-seen difference in art styles. It’s one of Pixar’s most-spectacularly animated movies.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, there should be an Oscars category for voice acting. This film is further evidence of that. The star-studded cast of Jamie Foxx, Tina Fey, Angela Bassett, and more clearly put their hearts into their performances. They truly bring these characters to life (pun somewhat intended). They seamlessly switch between humor and dramatic emotion, and it all feels very real. Even though they make these characters feel real, they are all appropriately animated enough for an animated film, especially the Jerrys and Graham Norton as Moonwind.
It’s always satisfying to see a character’s arc reach full development, and we get a lot of it in Soul. It’s not just with the protagonist of Joe, but 22 and Dorothea receive well-thought out development, and even Connie does so briefly. Each character’s arc reaches it’s satisfying development organically, and it never feels forced. It helps a lot with caring for and relating to each of these characters.
The film introduces us to the world of the Great Before, which is an interesting idea since we’ve already been familiarized with “the Great Beyond” time and time again in other media. We learn about its various locations like Room of Everything, the Zone, and the Hall of You, as well as the rules of how the Great Before works and that the souls abide by. It’s a world like nothing seen before, and it’s all explained in a way that makes sense and is never overwhelming. It’s enjoyable having new and unique world-building in a movie.
Like many of Pixar’s animated movies, Soul offers up some big laughs. Some of the most hilarious parts come in the form of witty dialogue, especially between Joe and 22. This film may not be as slapstick-heavy as other animations, but there are certainly some comical visuals throughout, like Joe being trapped in the body of a cat. What’s particularly interesting about the humor here compared to other Pixar films is that much of it feels more for the adults watching. It’s not inappropriate for children; it’s just that jokes are clearly made with their older audiences in mind. This makes a lot of sense because many of us who grew up with Pixar’s early work are in our late 20s and 30s, and they know we’re still watching.
There is a message behind Soul that is absolutely beautiful, and it’s something that is helpful for people of all ages to learn. That message is that we aren’t necessarily put on this Earth for any specific purpose, and that enjoying living life in general is what’s most important. See the beauty in the little things. It also shows us that it’s okay if we don’t have that one thing that we excel at like others might, or that we don’t know what we want to do in life. None of that is as important as enjoying the journey of life itself. That’s something we can often forget, and even feel bad about at any age, so this message is an important one for a lot of people.
The primary issue throughout Soul is that there are certain elements that we could have gotten more of. The beginning of the film sets up the whimsical world of the Great Before, various locations within it, and how everything works. We’re then sent back to our regular Earth where we spend most of the movie. It would have been fun to see more of this new world we’re introduced to and see what other stories could occur there, but we’re teased with it and then forced to move on. We’re also taught that people who become too obsessed with something become Lost Souls, but we don’t see what those creepy Lost Souls are capable of, even when they’re shown to be a threat of some sort. They just sort of exist as Lost Souls. It fits in with the film’s message, but not much is done with this unique idea.
Adding to that, Terry could have potentially been used as more of an antagonist. She has some funny lines, and it’s fun to see her chase after Joe and 22 on Earth, but she’s not seen a whole lot. She doesn’t feel like much of a threat when we do see her. She also doesn’t serve much of a purpose for the film outside of being Joe and 22’s way back to the Great Before. It’s also odd that she’s so obsessed with “keeping the numbers” and yet stops keeping those numbers for a full day, leaving room for more outliers to occur. She’s entertaining enough, but more could have been done with her.
There are a couple of things set up by the movie that we never get the payoff for. They are small details in the grand scheme of the film, but it’s still a little annoying. Joe mentions that he has been meaning to call someone named Lisa back, possibly for a potential date. He never calls her back. What’s the purpose of bringing it up then? We also never learn about 22’s life on Earth after leaving the Great Before, which is part of the point, but it could have been fun to see a glimpse during a post-credits scene of some kind.
This doesn’t take anything away from the story or the quality of the film, so it won’t have a lot of pull on my final score, but it’s worth mentioning. It seems like a bit of a problem that the first Pixar film (after 22 others) to finally have a black main character, he doesn’t get to be a black person for the whole story. This has been a trend for every other major animation studio as well, like with Disney Animation Studios’ Princess and the Frog and Blue Sky Studios’ Spies in Disguise. Even Tina Fey’s character gets to be a black man for more of the movie. On top of that, there is some stereotyping throughout the movie that might feel a little outdated.
In the Know
Joe, who is a musician in the film, is voiced by Jamie Foxx, who is also a musician. When Joe talks about his love of music and getting lost in it, you can sense it’s Jamie Foxx’s feelings toward music coming through. Some of what Joe felt or went through during the movie may somewhat mirror Foxx’s experiences or feelings in real life. It’s also just a fun idea to have the musician character played by a real-life musician.
As per usual with Pixar films, there are a slew of Easter eggs referencing their other work. For instance, the Hall of Everything contains the Pizza Planet truck from Toy Story, the Luxo Jr. lamp, and the CalArts room number A113 is on a street sign. There’s a subway car that Joe rides in that’s numbered 2319, which is a reference to a code from Monsters Inc. There are likely several other hidden Pixar references throughout the film. Each new Pixar movie gives us a fun game of Find-It.
Soul is an imaginative breath of fresh air with relatable characters, beautiful animation, and an important message for people of all ages. There are definitely some elements we could benefit from seeing more of or seeing the pay-off for, but that doesn’t stop it from being an exciting and emotional viewing experience.
This is sure to become one of Pixar’s most memorable films. It’s clear that they’ve done it again and made a huge hit. If you’re looking for a perfect mix between heart and humor, don’t hesitate any longer to check out Soul.