Let’s talk about Soul.
In terms of movie companies, Pixar are up there as one of the production studios that got the most screwed by Covid-19. They had two films scheduled for this year. The first was Onward, which was released at the start of March. March was of course back when we started to realise that this Covid thing might be a bit more serious than other pandemics and the lockdowns began. That meant Onward underperformed as films are likely to do when the cinemas are closed. Soul was going to be their second film released this year but with cinemas mostly staying closed, it ended up being the Christmas treat on Disney Plus. But is it any good?
This is one of Pixar’s more abstract efforts. Joe is a jazz musician who has ended up teaching band at school. He gets the opportunity to perform with a top jazz singer but oops, he ends up falling down a manhole cover. His soul then ends up in an ethereal world where new souls get their personalities before heading down to Earth. He then gets tasked with trying to help one of the oldest souls find the spark which would then get them to Earth.
This is definitely an attempt from Pixar to try and replicate the sheer brilliantness of Inside Out. It’s about how our mind works and why people are the way they are and it sees two characters that aren’t fond of each other go on a reluctant adventure together. It’s also directed by Pete Docter, who was the man behind Inside Out as well. It does make sense, I believe that Inside Out is one of Pixar’s best movies and is often underappreciated in their library, but that sense of this has already been done does cloud some early moments in this film. It sometimes feels like they are the band trying to replicate their big hit single once again, and even if the replication is still very good, it has that familiarity that lessens its impact.
After a while though, you do realise that while this may have started at the same point as Inside Out and might have even shared some of the journey together, it does go on to have a different route and destination in mind. Inside Out was about emotions and Soul is about well, the soul. It’s about why we want to live and what gets us up in the morning, something that unfortunately we might need reminding of at the moment with how miserable everything is. By the end of the movie, the film wants us to know that life can be tough and some things we thought would be amazing might be underwhelming but that life is still worth living. Again, something we all need reminding of from time to time.
And it does that very well. Joe is a jazz musician but he’s highly frustrated. He gigs but has to be a band teacher to even get close to making ends meet. And this appears to be his future as well as he’s been offered a permanent position teaching a band so terrible they wreck the Disney music in the opening credits. This might suggest Joe is not a great teacher but let’s gloss over that for now. It doesn’t help his mum doesn’t approve of his career choices. Basically, his life is miserable and he might not be someone who truly appreciates life as he puts absolutely everything on this one gig he’s been invited to perform at. And the film makes an interesting point on this too. It shows the people who get way too obsessed with one thing and lose happiness because of it as lost souls. That if you start to obsess over something, it’s easy to lose yourself and then your soul too.
It’s a very powerful movie, helped by a very unique soundtrack. Seriously, you haven’t heard many films that sound like this. It’s very electronic and a bit beepity boopity, but not in a sci-fi way. Well that sentence made no sense but I’m going to roll with it. This alongside the design of the Jerrys who run the weird soul world Joe ends up in makes this film feel so incredibly unique. Especially with the way they contract that electronic music which definitely doesn’t feel too soulful compared to the jazz music Joe plays and refers to during the film. This not only shows the difference between the world beyond ours and the planet we live on, and where life truly is, but also makes this a great film to just listen to. And if you are starting to feel like this film is too similar to Inside Out, that soundtrack certainly makes it feel very different.
This feels like the most adult film Pixar have ever made and I did wonder if children would enjoy it. This deals with very heavy themes and there’s not much childlike wonder in here at all, so I am left to think if kids will be able to like this like so many other Pixar films. Well, there is some parts of this that has been written to keep the younger ones entertained. There is a body swap element to the film which gets our characters back on Earth. While this is eventually used to show how important life is and why we should live it, note not enjoy but live, it also leads to hijinks for the sake of comedy. While the film is funny and has a lot of killer lines, the hijinks are a low point and not that amusing. It however should keep the attention of the kids when the heavy themes are being pushed.
Soul is a beautiful movie. Yes there is some familiarity and the fact it needs to be a kids' film means it needs to do some comedy which drags things down a bit. But otherwise, this is a great piece about the biggest topic of all, life itself and the reason it exists. When the film hits it stride, it is a stunning thing which can remind us why we go through this thing called life. And you know, we need that. Life is crap right now as we’re confined indoors and can’t do many of the things which make a lot of the rubbish we go through worth it. This film reminds you of those things and we can only hope it’s not too long until we get to enjoy those things again.