A existential masterpiece that serves to remind us that the acclaimed creator of UP still knows how to serve up an instant classic
By James Reid, Contributing Writer and Critic
It is seldom that I find two animated movies in the same year that truly move me. If it hadn't been for Wolfwalkers, the existential nature of this film might have made this my favorite film of the year. It is amazing how a slow year can be saved in the last month by two animated films that almost feel like they came from two different worlds.
What makes Soul work is that it trusts its genius, Pete Docter, to do what he does best. That is to tell a tale that children can love and adults can get something out of. It is the most mature Disney film of the year despite being about little white blobs that serve as cliches for what our souls look like.
A little history on Pete Docter. He won two Oscars, one for Inside Out and the other for Up. He received screenplay nominations which is unheard of for animated directors for his work on Up, Wall-E and Inside Out. He also got nominated, his first, for writing Toy Story. He is one of the greatest minds in animation and the praise this movie is getting only solidifies his place in the pantheon of Disney creatives.
The film itself is beautifully animated with some of the imagery being revolutionary for animated films. I would go as far as to say it is the beautifully animated film Pixar has ever made. It really is amazing when you think about the infamous still of all the people at Andy's party in the original Toy Story having the same face. Even after this man becomes a soul you can see who he was when he was alive down to the hat and glasses staying with him. What really is incredible though is the existential beings that represent angels or God who are simply squiggled creations.
As I mentioned before it was the deeply nuanced message of the film that truly makes it what it is. The film finds an existential discussion based around the idea of purpose and passion and the spark that drives us. Kids might see it as a silly little quest to find an "earth pass" but for anyone struggling with why they are living this film does a good job of speaking to that. It suggests ideas and beliefs that seem almost philosophical in nature. A live action award bait movie made with this premise would have been a dominate Best Picture contender.
Clever little cameos suggests that this soul has driven away some of the greatest people in human history with her desire not to live. It is that belief that drives her journey later on. That journey and plot twist has some people up in arms and I can't help but feel they are right to believe that even if I see it as a misrepresentation of Docter's vision.
The film takes this quest and builds on the soul in creative and unique ways down to a joke about the Knicks that is likely to leave any passionate NBA fan in stitches. There is also a commentary made about wandering and lost souls that uses a stock investor to make a clever statement about the mundane nature of living and how souls can be corrupted by a career or passion someone forces themselves into.
Furthermore I find the movie doesn't try to be preachy about Jazz so much as uses it as a tool to further the plot development of the character. You see who he is as a man who loves music but not in such a way where it feels like Docter is trying to be Damien Chazelle. It serves an mportant purpose but doesn't dominate the narrative flow. One such line in regards to me is about how a fish in the ocean only sees it as water while the more seasoned fish knows they have made it to the ocean. It is clever commentary on our constant search for more in life.
Lastly I'd be remiss if I didn't discuss the beautiful score that took Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails and his partner Atticus Ross' work and turned into a pivotal part of the feel of the film. That mixed with the music of Jon Batiste made the music of the film almost feel like its own character. When the Oscars begin voting on their awards I would be surprised if this was the score to beat.
I really do think the Pixar is something special that keeps delivering even when the other major Disney properties fail. I've never felt like this company has had a moment that drives fans away like Last Jedi did or completely fall apart like Thor: The Dark World. This company should continue making all age content until they go bankrupt or decide to stop making animated films. The film is on Disney+ and should be seen if you're interested.
This film gets 5/5 souls.