Soul Movie Review
Unique and beautifully animated, Soul is another ambitious effort from Disney-Pixar. It also may be their least accessible, a quasi-existential adventure set in the quasi-existential world between the living and the dead. Pre-Heaven, if you will.
Director Pete Doctor has helmed some of Pixar’s most inventive films, including Up, Monster’s Inc. and Inside Out, which may be the closest comparison to Soul in that it too examines what’s inside us. What makes us tick. What motivates us to be the people that we are.
But Soul (which is co-directed by Kemp Powers) is radically different from Inside Out, from its visuals to concept and overall tone. Like many other Pixar movies, Soul is at its core an adventure film, with poor Joe (Jamie Foxx), a Black man who, after finally coming so close to his big break in music, falls into a sewer and presumably suffers a much more deadly break, separating his soul from his body. He refuses Heaven, however, and, partnered with a youthful and defiant soul (Tina Fey), makes his way back to earth for a second chance.
But before he does that, though, Joe spends quite a bit of time in the astral plane (or somewhere), where two-dimensional creatures observe his behavior as they prepare new souls for a journey to Earth. It was during this stretch, as fascinating and arguably brilliant as it is, that my beautiful wife decided Soul was a bit too strange for her. My toddler was entranced, but she’s two and didn’t know what the f**k is going on. As for me, this portion of Soul was compelling but weird, alluring but not particularly entertaining.
Those looking for standard fare get a slight reprieve when Joe makes his way back to Earth--as a cat--and runs around trying to figure out how to make things right (while also falling victim to the instincts of a cat). Soul finds its mainstream rhythm during the second act, delivering some funny gags and consistent entertainment value throughout.
Things get strange again, and heavy, in the third act. Through it all Soul is masterfully done, but at one point I consciously thought to myself, “Wow, this movie got way too serious.” It’s not that it gets dark (other than dealing with death, of course), but in its waning moments Soul suddenly stops trying to entertain for a few minutes too long. While the tone may resonant with some adults, if you’re expecting an animated kid’s movie that, you know, consistently appeals to kids, Soul isn’t that movie.
As creative and intriguing as Soul is, the movie occasionally loses sight of its ultimate purpose: to entertain. That doesn’t mean it isn’t worthy, but it does mean it isn’t transcendent.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.