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  • Writer's pictureDenise Breen

Soul: It's Pixar's most grown-up film

4 out of 5

Joe Gardener is a jazz pianist who dreams of performing on stage. Instead, he gets by as a music teacher at a school. As much as he enjoys inspiring kids to play various instruments, he longs to get his moment in the spotlight. But life has other plans for him as Joe has an accident and dies and finds himself on his way to the 'Great Beyond'. However, he isn’t quite done living his life just yet and manages to sneak into the 'Great Before' – where personalities are put into souls before they come to Earth. Joe takes on the assignment to train a soul – numbered '22' – to help her find her spark and his way back home.

Expectations run high from Disney Pixar films, but when Pete Docter – the man behind 'Monsters Inc', 'Up' and 'Inside Out' takes on directorial duties, they take on a whole new meaning. The Chief Creative Officer of Pixar Animation Studios has been instrumental in bringing some of the most meaningful animated feature films to life. That opening few minutes at the start of 'Up' was a masterful piece of story-telling that had me in tears. With ‘Soul’ he attempts to deconstruct a crucial element of what makes us human – our purpose in life. The film goes many steps further to explore what truly defines success for each of us. It’s these layered and intricate subjects that make it clear this isn’t just a film for kids. In fact, younger audiences may find the subject matter – death – to be quite heavy. Still, ‘Soul’ has some kiddy humour around body swap shenanigans but I think this one is for the grown-ups in the audience.

Soul’s jaw-dropping and photorealistic animation renders New York City and the Great Before with spectacular detail and colours, making some scenes picture perfect. The lives of the lead characters Joe Gardner (voiced by Jamie Foxx) and 22 (voiced by Tina Fey) intertwine in unexpected ways. Both Foxx and Fey bring in a lot more meaning through their voice performances, as Joe inadvertently becomes a mentor to 22. Graham Norton is delightfully whacky as Moonwind while Angela Bassett is purposefully pompous as Dorothea.

The message at the core of this film is that it’s perfectly fine not to have life figured out, as long as you keep trying to live it to the fullest. This theme – more vital now than ever before – is set against a musical backdrop strongly rooted in jazz, brilliantly scored by Atticus Rose and Trent Reznor. The genre isn’t everyone’s cup of tea because of its lack of structure and affinity for improvisation, which perfectly symbolizes an individual’s life. Irrespective of the circumstances and external controls, no two lives will ever be the same. Using that analogy, the film also celebrates being in the moment and isn’t that a lesson we all need this year? ‘Soul’ is another landmark film from Disney Pixar, likely to sweep next year’s animated film awards.

It's currently streaming on Disney+

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