Pixar’s ‘Soul’ Offers Depth and Introspection Through Animation

From the depths of COVID-19-infused living and the constant introspection that has come with it, comes Pixar’s Soul, a masterful examination of what it means to be human. With a more intellectual theme than those of similar Pixar films like Coco and Inside Out, one might expect Soul to appeal less to the usual target ages. But with the animation studio’s focus on visual storytelling, little is lost on a younger audience. Soul is an amazing movie in and of itself, with only very specific critiques leaving boxes unticked.

Jamie Foxx voices the main character, jazz pianist Joe Gardner, who has been hired for the gig of his life, only to die soon after. Not accepting this twist of fate, he escapes from his path to the Great Beyond, and ends up in the Great Before, where unborn souls get their personalities before going to Earth. There, Joe meets 22, voiced by Tina Fey, an unborn soul who has been in the Great Before for hundreds of years. Misadventures ensue as Joe attempts to return to his comatose body on Earth in time for his performance.

Kemp Powers, Mike Jones, and Pete Docter’s writing throughout the twisting plot is witty and charismatic. Each character is uniquely perfect for the story, and the interactions between them can be anywhere from worrying to hilarious. The dynamic between Joe and 22 can feel abrading and repetitive at first, but their transition to friendship feels natural and smooth. Foxx and Fey make up for the occasional lacking moments in writing with emotion and, well, character.

Of course, a lot has to be handed to the animation department. Animation has come a long way since Geri’s Game, a short film featuring Pixar’s first full human character. Subtle expressions fill the moments with and without dialogue, and even the supernatural appears natural. Like any Pixar film, there are stunning new innovations. One of the clearest innovations comes in the form of the counselors of the Great Before, whose character design is inspired by Picasso’s cubism and single-line drawings. Furthermore, pausing at any point in the film — aside from those not on Earth — will yield a photorealistic environment, from Joe’s dusty apartment to a bird’s-eye view of bustling Manhattan.

One of the most impressive aspects of the film was the music. Jazz compositions and performances by pianist Jon Batiste mingle with a score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. The playing of every instrument is meticulously animated, from the movements of fingers to tapping feet, making both the music and the musicians feel authentic.

Overall, Soul is an amazing blend of visuals, sounds, and story. It sends a message of warmth, kindness, and happiness, inspiring hope in an otherwise bleak year.

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