What’s truly hard to describe about Soul is really in the name itself; what even is a soul? What does it mean to have one? Why does it even matter? These are all questions one asks oneself when even beginning to contemplate the question of having a soul — and this here is what this film is attempting to tackle. Yep, this is quite literally a kids film attempting to answer the major questions of life, the universe, and everything — Pixar has officially peaked. Soul at its core is a simple story; it’s about a man named Joe (Jamie Fox) who is inches away from achieving his dream until he unexpectedly falls down a manhole to his death where he becomes a “soul” and is transported into another dimension where with the help of a “soul guide” called 22 (Tina Fey), they then set out on an adventure to locate his body and discover the meaning of life. Okay, so maybe this movie isn’t so simple.
We’ll stop beating around the bush, what this movie is really about, is life. Soul intends to explore one of life’s greater questions, by taking us on a journey with its characters as they experience life itself in all its many quirks — much like the journey of self-discovery for Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol; Soul is very much the same journey for Joe; but instead he’s attempting to learn exactly how we should spend the short time we have on this world. Whether that time should be spent fulfilling a purpose or achieving some dream we’ve had. Then there’s 22, a very old soul who has yet to even be given a ticket to try life out yet. Her journey alongside Joe is one of intense hardship.
What I found so respectable about Soul was its candid attempt at showing life in all its “unglory” – in other words, many aspects of life aren’t all they’re cracked up to be, sometimes your dreams can be underwhelming and sometimes the simplest moments can be the most memorable. Another caveat that ‘Soul’ so elegantly explored was the idea that we aren’t born for one specific thing, or to do one specific thing. We don’t live on this earth to serve some defined purpose but rather, each person is free to find or create their own meaning or purpose. With all that said, it is quite clear that Soul is nothing short of being quite a philosophical film; it explores a variety of philosophical meanings such as existentialism, absolutism, and nihilism. Much of these meanings are seen through the guise of its characters – for example the lead character Joe is a very absolutist type of person, he believes he was born to do one thing and one thing only, play music. The supporting character 22 is quite nihilistic and often believes her existence is meaningless and nothing can change that. Both of these characters evolve and learn, both encountering an existential crisis that tips them over the edge.
Pixar also continues to push the boundaries of their technical brilliance as Soul provides luscious imagery, a wide spectrum of colour and creativity in its execution. There are many breathtaking visual moments that are a treat for the eyes, particularly some of the most reminiscent New York imagery that truly capture the soul in the city, pun intended. The animation in any earth sequence is photo-realistic with an incredible touch of detail with interactive lighting that truly feels lifelike. Elsewhere, in the spiritual world, the colour used is simple but effective in creating some powerful images that elevate the contemplative nature of this film. The true genius of the visual work crafted in this film is the creativeness used to portray the world it represents. Whether that is the falling through limbo or how cosmic characters travel through New York city. The technical work conducted in this film is as bold and ambitious as the storytelling. I think it is safe to say that my 75” TV did not do the film any justice when it comes to viewing the gorgeous animation – this film needs to be viewed on the biggest screen.
With a movie based on jazz there was always going to be jazz music as the main source of the score – piano riffs, funky saxophone beats perfectly captured the heart of NYC. For the scenes set in the Great Beyond/After the composers have come up with a futuristic beat which also includes a slight spin on jazz. The composition work by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross don’t allow the music to overshadow the emotional storytelling but let it subtly elevate that experience for the audience.
Soul feels like an almost final evolution that Pixar has taken towards their war against our emotions; landing naturally in the realm of “what is the meaning of life?”. We’ll say this, in terms of Pixar’s war against our emotions, they’re winning. This is by far Pixar’s most philosophical, complex, and riveting piece of storytelling yet — sure there may not be the fan favourite characters of Toy Story here, but the raw storytelling at work by Pete Doctor and his many collaborators is breathtaking. Soul may not connect as much in pop culture as Pixar’s other titles, but it surely tops Disney and Pixar’s list as their most accomplished animated work yet.