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Soul – Movie Review

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Soul – Movie Review

Rating: A (Fantastic)

Trailer/Thumbnail Courtesy Walt Disney Studios

In Pete Docter’s previous films, he brought audiences to other worlds, including a city populated by monsters and our own brains. With Soul, he has chosen to tackle his most ambitious subject yet. What are we like before we are born? Do we already have personalities before we step out into the world? It’s a heady subject to explore, but Docter, his co-director/co-writer Kemp Powers and co-writer Mike Jones and the artists at Pixar Animation Studios find a clever angle. Soul is very much a character-driven film as we watch aspiring musician Joe Gardner try to understand the strange predicament he is in. Part of the joy also comes from his interactions with a cynical soul and the beings in charge of the “Great Before.”

As Soul plays, one gets the sense this is a different sort of film for Pixar. It’s even a bit of departure for Docter in his direction and the way the story plays out. There’s this notion that Pixar makes films primarily for children, because they’re often colourful and because of their medium of choice. However, they have more maturity than people assume. Soul might be the most “adult” film to come out of the studio, as Joe’s arc involves a lot of elements that will relate to many. A lot of the time, we have our dreams and desires, but life decides to throw us curveballs and give us a new path to follow. It’s a worthy theme to explore and Joe becomes a compelling lead.

Another brilliant concept comes from 22, a soul with no interest in heading to Earth. Tina Fey brings plenty of hilarity to the role and there’s an especially funny running joke of 22 messing with historical figures. At first, one expects her to fill the usual humorous sidekick role. However, the filmmakers manage to flesh her out, too, and take her down some fascinating roads. There comes a point where both need to work in sync and it’s an excellent use of storytelling. One could describe Soul as a two-hander, but the supporting and minor characters also leave an impression. We meet several people who are a part of Joe’s life and they prove to be well developed individuals in their own right and necessary elements of his journey.

The most beautiful scenes in Soul take place in the Great Before as Docter and his team at Pixar attempt to visualise the world before we’re born. Obviously, nobody knows what this is like, which offers the artists so much room for creativity and imagination. They take advantage of the vast possibilities and Docter has pushed for experimentation. Soul looks like no other Pixar movie and the designers and animators have done a marvellous job of crafting this world. The soul counsellors have a wonderful stringy appearance to them and the souls have an endearing quality as they bounce across the screen. Soul has a unique animated world all its own and represents a new leap forward for Pixar.

Soul is an example of what makes animation such an amazing medium. Only in animation could you tell this story and especially depict the other realms visited by the lead protagonist. There’s also a genuine interest in hoping things work out for Joe and there’s a wonderful comradery that forms between him and 22. The film utilises some clever twists and turns and is willing to tackle some thought-provoking themes about life and how we choose to use it. Even after already impressing us with Monsters, Inc., Up and Inside Out, Pete Docter still finds new ways to take us to places we’ve never been before. Soul is further proof that he is one of the most imaginative directors working today and it will be exciting to see what he brings to Pixar now that he’s in charge.

Stefan Ellison