Trust Pixar to tug at our heartstrings so relentlessly. As if it wasn’t enough that Toy Story 3 made grown men cry like babies, or that Up would melt the hearts of all who saw it, now they have to raise the stakes by actually killing a central character and making them desperate for a second chance at life.
The film is Soul and following in the steps of their previous films Wall-E, Inside Out and Coco, they have tapped into a more mature market by producing a story which, while remaining family-friendly, is a more mature and introspective movie than anything they have made before.
It tells the story of Joe, an ambitious musician who dreams of a career playing jazz while being stuck in what he regards as a dead-end job teaching music at an inner-city middle-school. On the same day that his dream is finally realised, he is killed in a freak accident. Now existing as a soul, Joe refuses the journey to the great beyond and finds himself in the place where souls are prepared for their lives as humans. With the help of a timid infant soul named 22, Joe schemes to find a way back to Earth to take his rightful place on stage.
To reveal more would be to spoil some of Soul‘s most engaging aspects; suffice to say that Joe’s time between worlds is a wonderful, sincere and moving experience. Joe is voiced by an unrecognisable Jamie Foxx, who offers a toned-down, earnest performance that is not only touching, but also delightful, while Tina Fey brings a nuanced tone to the story as the voice of 22, capturing a sense of anxiety and uncertainty that viewers will relate to. Graham Norton, Alice Braga, Richard Ayoade, Angela Basset and Questlove are some of the supporting players who add a balance of warmth and frivolity to Joe and 22’s bid for life.
But while Soul‘s narrative is a beautiful and heart-wrenching story to behold, the real magic lies within its impeccable animation and all-absorbing score from the Academy Award winning duo Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross (from the industrial rock band Nine Inch Nails). Their trademark pulse-pounding synth sounds have been finessed into a beautifully reserved and touching collection of melodies, which vary in mood and intensity and represent – for the most part – the place between Heaven and Earth. The Social Network composers have crafted an outstanding score here – one that will no doubt put them in favour for another well-deserved Oscar win.
Meanwhile, the design of the movie is second to none, with various styles of animation being deployed to represent the numerous stages of life and beyond. At times abstract and minimalist, while at other times detailed and precise, the various looks and representations of Soul combine to present a masterclass in animated filmmaking, once again proving Pixar to be the leaders of their field.
Perhaps the film’s one weakness is its reluctance to push the concept as far as the audience might expect it to go, and in failing to do so (sorry, no spoilers for you) it misses the opportunity of being one of the most profound animated films of all time.
Nevertheless, the character arc and overall experience is a very special one, and there is very little to be critical of. With likeable characters and a sentimental parable, Soul is simply magical. Children may struggle with the existential qualities of the story, whereas adults will more likely come away from it the winners.
‘Soul’ is now streaming on DISNEY+.