REVIEW: Pixar’s “Soul” has heart, too

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“Soul,” starring Jamie Foxx, premiered on Disney+ Dec. 25, 2020 and featured a soundtrack by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. The film was directed by Pete Docter. Image Courtesy DMED.

For decades, Pixar has taken moviegoers to incredible worlds. From the vast ocean in “Finding Nemo” to a floating house in “Up” to the living cars in “Cars,” every Pixar movie is bursting with imagination and emotions and their newest movie, “Soul” might be their most imaginative and emotional yet. 

Originally scheduled for a theatrical release in November, “Soul” released on Disney+ Christmas Day due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.  

“Soul” stars Jaime Foxx as Joe, a middle school band teacher and passionate jazz player who falls down a manhole after getting his dream gig. Joe’s soul is taken to “The Great Beyond,” where all souls go when they die, but manages to escape to “The Great Before,” where new souls get personalities before they’re born on Earth. While Joe tries to find a way back to Earth, he meets and eventually mentors 22 (played by Tina Fey), an unborn soul who believes there’s no reason to leave The Great Before for Earth. Along the way, Joe and 22 are chased by Terry, the counter of all souls and the antagonist of the film.

Even though the main character dies in the first 15 minutes, the movie isn’t exactly about dying. In fact, it’s exactly the opposite— Pixar’s Soul celebrates living. For a long time, it seems like “Soul’s” message is about finding a spark and a reason to live, but what the characters do end up learning in the film is more thoughtful and nuanced. There’s a scene where one of the characters just sits outside and feels alive by just observing the world around them. Speaking from experience, mindfulness and time spent outdoors can do a world of good.

The film is directed by Pixar veteran Pete Docter, whose resume includes directing “Monster’s Inc.,” “Up” and “Inside Out.” Suffice to say, he is one of Pixar’s most imaginative story-tellers. While those films felt like journeys, “Soul” feels comfortably small. There’s not a huge variety of locations besides New York City and the soul realm with its “Great Before” and “Great Beyond.” Despite that, the CGI is better than ever with NYC looking life-like despite being animated. 

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Because the main character is a jazz musician, there is a lot of excellent jazz music. However, it’s the original score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross of Nine Inch Nails fame that captures the ethereal quality of the setting and premise. It’s hard to believe the performer behind “Closer” composed the soundtrack to a kid’s movie, but it ended up being one of the best parts. 

Between its heartfelt writing, out-of-this-world visuals, great performances, inspired soundtrack, plus its availability on Disney+, Pixar’s “Soul” is easy to recommend and easily the best film of 2020. 

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