Updated: Dec 24, 2020
I’ve said it before. And I’ll say it again. Pixar Animation gets it. They really, really get it.
They have had an unbroken string of successes based on their dazzling digital animation mastery and their understanding that a great movie begins with a truly great script.
Great movies are great stories. Plain and simple.
Soul is no exception. It’s the 23rd feature film from Disney/Pixar.
Often, the stories are journeys. In this case it truly is the journey of a lifetime, specifically, the life of a guy named Joe (voiced by Jamie Foxx).
He’s a struggling jazz musician who dreams of performing and making it big.
In the meantime, he eeks out a living teaching music at the local high school. That is, until his big break finally comes.
But before he can even begin living his dream, his life is suddenly cut short.
He finds himself on a people mover in space with other, recently-departed souls moving toward that celestial light that we’ve all heard about. But he wants no part of it.
And so begins the journey to reunite his soul with his body.
It’s a surreal odyssey, a strange mix, somewhere between Alice in Wonderland and The Beatles Yellow Submarine.
It’s a world with a colorful landscape of its own. It’s a world with its own rules and reality.
Portals in the sky open and close, revealing a heavenly land of cute new souls who must be mentored before descending to the earth below.
The mentors are neon outlines that look like they stepped out of a modern art painting. Nothing here is real or familiar.
It’s an acid trip with Bob Dylan music fading in and out in the background.
The beauty of animation is the limitless boundaries of imagination it offers.
It has been said that animation might be the purest form of cinema. It certainly offers the most creative control.
Unlike live action filmmaking and the inherent compromises of real talent and real locations, animation allows the artist to create everything from scratch.
On some level, there is a godlike sense of creation, literally starting with a blank page.
Animation can transport us to another dimension like no other form of cinema, even in the age of digital effects where real actors and props are still utilized .
And that’s precisely what Soul does.
Once again, the world that Pixaar creates is breathtakingly real.
In every one of their successive releases, the images become more and more photo-realistic.
The characters always have a cartoonish quality, but they occupy an environment that appears to be mind-blowlingly real.
You can almost smell the smells and breathe the air. The images are immersive and delightful and completely convincing.
As mentioned, no one does it better than Pixar when it comes to eye-popping visuals.
And, as mentioned earlier, no one really matches them when it comes to compelling stories meant to endure the test of time.
There is always a message. They always have something meaningful to say.
On that level, Soul is a modern-day parable about life and death, about the meaning of life, and about the importance of passing the torch to future generations.
Remarkably, it’s not a bit preachy. It’s fun. It’s dramatic. And it’s entertaining.
Over the years, Pixar isn’t afraid to tackle some edgy story material.
There have been an assortment of flawed characters who had to somehow find their way and overcome obstacles.
You could argue that the folks at Pixar are repeating themselves a little here.
The obvious connection is Coco which ventured into the world of spirituality and religious belief.
It also explored the ideas about life and the afterlife filling the screen with some of the most stunningly rendered images ever seen in an animated film. The lighting effects and colorization were jaw-dropping.
Coco and Soul were also groundbreaking from the standpoint that they featured minorities as main characters.
Additionally, both serve up an exploration of culture and tradition and community that is rare in the world of animated features.
In the case of Coco, it was Mexican culture and tradition.
In the case of Soul, it’s a New York state of mind, complete with the urban streets, traffic jams and noise, the jazz clubs, the pizza, and yes, even the pizza rats.
It’s a joyful ode to the Big Apple.
And it’s a showcase of jazz music, prominently featured throughout the film. As with the characters in Coco, careful attention was given to the musical performances in the movie.
The fingering and playing of the instruments is spot-on, giving the film an added sense of realism and detail. Musicians will love that level of detail.
Movie lovers will love it for all the references and homages sprinkled in, including classics like 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968).
There is a lot to love about Soul.
It is a beautifully, lovingly, masterfully crafted movie.
Disney/Pixar have managed to make lightening strike once again. And it lights up the screen with imagination and wonder.
It makes you wonder what else is in the Pixar pipeline in the years ahead. Whatever it is, you know it will be exceptional.
Soul begins streaming on Disney+ on December 25.
Photos courtesy Disney/Pixar.