VERIFICATION: Soul (2020)

Film reviews

Pixar’s Soul was one of my most anticipated films this year. The trailers didn’t impress me very much, but when it comes to Disney and Pixar I don’t miss trailers that are often deliberately misleading. I learned it from Tangled’s terrible marketing campaign and forgot long enough to think that Mulan 2020 could be a good thing. Also directed by Pete Docter, the most consistent director of Pixar (Monsters, Inc., Up, Inside Out). Especially in the Soul trailers it looked like a kind of counterpart to Inside Out, which deals with a similar – if not identical – theme. The film also has an impressive cast, led by Jamie Foxx and Tina Fey. Angela Bassett, Philia Rashad, Graham Norton, Rachel House, Alice Braga, Wes Studi, Richard Ayoade, David Diggs, Questlove and many others bring the characters of the film to life. Unlike the premium version of Mulan, Disney+ Soul was released for free at Christmas, so of course I gave him a watch. Well, let’s see.

Soul follows Joe Gardner (Jamie Foxx), an aspiring jazz musician stuck in a group of high school teachers. When the school where he works offers him a full-time job, his mother (Phylicia Rashad) is excited, but he can’t help want more in life. Unexpectedly he gets his chance when a former student (Questlove) calls him and offers to play with the jazz quartet Dorothea Williams (Angela Bassett). His audition is going surprisingly well, and it feels like his life is finally starting to go well. But as he prepares for the evening concert, he falls into a manhole. With his body in a comatose state, Joe is on his way to the afterlife. Still, he’s not ready to die if he’s just made a big discovery. He goes to the great front, to the place where the souls wait to enter the body on earth. He was confused with a mentor and assigned to 22, a soul who doesn’t want to go to Earth. You make a deal: Joe will help 22 people to earn money on earth and collect it himself to bring it back into his life and enable him to give up the hardships of life. But things don’t quite go as planned, and they start an unexpected journey to put Joe back in his body.

The voice reproduction in Soul is exceptional. Pixar tends to be very good at finding the right actor for a character, not only famous, to get attention. But Saul plays very well; with a few exceptions I completely forgot who played who and was sucked into this world. Jamie Foxx and Tina Fey are not the duo I thought would be the title for this film or any other, but they work very well together. Despite her desperate desire to return to her life on earth, Jo comes out tired and exhausted. 22 is the perfect foil for Jo, who says she has no desire to live, but enjoys every moment and every experience, once on earth. These two carry the film, but other characters like Joe’s mother, Dorothea and Terry (Rachel House) are also fun. Graham Norton in the role of Moonwind is funny, but I think it could have been funnier given some of the situations in which we find this character. This film is clearly more serious and cerebral than the usual production of Pixar, which is usually more emotional than intellectual. From that perspective, I understand the relative lack of teasing, and I don’t necessarily have a problem with that. With Moonwind, I think it’s just a bit of a mistake because the character clearly has to be funny, and sometimes his jokes don’t come true. I’m afraid the comedy in this film is a bit problematic in general. At a certain moment Joe realizes that he hates cats as a reaction to the situation in which he finds himself, and that has nothing to do with the situation. He has never developed an aversion to cats, and it never responds to the situation in which he has to be involved. It would be funnier if they played with the obvious irony of the situation. Another one of my ant fuckers is that the movie David Diggs messes up! It has only three lines and adds little to the film. I was excited that he was in the movie, so it was a little disappointing that he wasn’t.

I also want to talk about the animation and the composition of the shots, both of which are remarkable. All the details seem incredible to the soul. They have indicated exactly how the fingers of the musicians move, how Dorothea’s mouth moves when she plays the saxophone, and so on. They also work their magic with Joe’s tutor Connie and her passion for the tuba. He’s another character I’d like to see more of, but I understand why they treated him like that. I love the designs and concepts explored in The Great Past, and this film made me think of Studio Ghibli in an amazing way by the way it makes the little things of everyday life, like food, nature and travel, magical. It is related to the themes of the film and is very satisfying. The way some scenes are cut is also pretty smart; I don’t want to ruin it, but there is one scene where Joe talks to his mother, and the way they make the transition is really cool.

This revision has taken longer than I would have liked, and I’ve thought a lot about why. Soul is a film that tries to make you think more than it makes you feel. As I said, this is very unusual for Pixar. Many of his films are absolutely tearful, and even the films that usually don’t revolve around central relationships and how they are formed and experienced. Joe and 22-year-old Joe have a relationship, but it’s more a mess out of the water than a deep connection between two good friends. When there aren’t great emotional moments in a movie, it’s harder for me to know what I think, and I feel weird saying it. It’s stupid to say, but if a movie doesn’t feed me emotionally, I have to think about it longer. I’m so used to a film telling the audience how to feel or perceive a character or a relationship, and Soul doesn’t do that. It also has to do with a problem I had with the end: That’s pretty steep. However, these factors play to the film’s advantage, especially if you sit on it and not just shake your knee as many probably do. They are undervalued because they were counting on great emotional gains such as Inside Out, Coco or Toy Story 3. I like the first two, but Toy Story 3 is too heavy and emotionally manipulative to my taste. And Soul has emotional scenes, they’re just more realistic and relational. There are few bombs in this film. And when I first saw the film, one scene brought tears to my eyes. We will discuss this in more detail in a spoiler review that I will do together with a colleague. I like it that the soul comes to its senses and doesn’t give easy answers. Because are there fixed and unchangeable answers to these questions? The film wonders what our purpose is, whether we need at least one to justify life, and whether it’s worth dying for. It’s not a children’s film, but it’s a very good film, and some of the ideas and messages have really resonated with me after this year.

Location – 9

Action – 10

Music/sound – 10

Direction / Edit – 10

Humour – 3

8.4

Good

Soul is not a children’s film, but it is a very good film, and some of the ideas and messages have really resonated with me after this year.

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