Pete Docter’s track record with Pixar is arguably the strongest amongst those filmmakers who have returned to the celebrated animation studio multiple times. With his run of Monsters Inc, Up and Inside Out, Docter’s work has come to stand as the studio working at the peak of their powers in both the creative and emotional stakes. With his latest, Soul, Docter is very much expanding on the territories he has explored before (particularly in the case of Inside Out), but in a way that is a natural progression of where his filmography has been heading. The result is Pixar’s most mature film to date, and one that contains some of the most ambitious storytelling and animation that the studio has ever produced.
The film follows Middle School music teacher Joe Gardner (voiced by Jamie Foxx), who has long dreamed of becoming a professional Jazz Pianist, often feeling as though he has always just missed his shot. When he is offered another chance to perform and show his worth, an accident throws his soul into the world of the afterlife. Refusing to accept that this is truly the end of his life, Joe teams up with a cynical soul in training, 22 (Tina Fey), on a quest to reunite his soul with his body before he once again misses out on another shot.
There are very much two layers of environment to the world that Soul . On one level there is a stunningly animated Autumnal New York City. Revelling in the details of street corners, and the seemingly mundane operations of day to day life, this New York City is vibrant, bustling and jaw-droppingly real. You often have to double take when gazing at the environments, as they are often boggling to behold in their level of detail. The moments of musical performance, be it in the classroom or a basement jazz bar, vibrate with a level of authenticity that is unlike anything Pixar has done before. Pair that with the beautifully realised expression of being ‘in the zone’, as well as Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross’ score with Jon Batiste’s jazz compositions, you have a film that is musically alive throughout.
Full review over at Filmhounds Magazine, originally published December 27th 2020.