Soul

Pixar always manages to go above and beyond what you’d expect from an animated PG movie.  From their very first, ‘Toy Story’, Pixar movies have told stories about what it means to be alive; the central theme isn’t about finding romantic love but instead is about the relationships we have with our family, our friends and ourselves.  In recent years, Pixar has delved deeper into the human condition and looked at how we face death with movies like ‘Up’, ‘Coco’, ‘Onward’ and now ‘Soul’.

‘Soul’ is the story of part-time music teacher Joe Gardner who’s dream it is to play jazz professionally.  As with ‘Up’, the story is set up beautifully within the first few minutes, we see Joe at his job, we see his relationship with his mother and we understand what drives him, and right before the titles roll, we see Joe get the break that he’s been longing for before walking into the street and (presumably) plunging to his death down an open manhole.

The afterlife, or as is here, the in-between, is often portrayed in movies as a celestial bureaucracy, think of ‘Beetlejuice’, ‘Defending Your Life’, ‘Heaven Can Wait’ or ‘A Matter of Life and Death’ with the common theme of a mistake, a loophole, someone attempting to cheat the system.  Clearly, ‘Soul’ has borrowed imagery and themes from ‘A Matter of Life and Death’ including the classic stairway to heaven and the rendering of the afterlife as simplistic and flat with life being portrayed as being full and beautiful – it’s the antithesis of the depiction of the colourful fantasy, dream world of ‘Oz’ and the mundanity of life for Dorothy in black-and-white Kansas.

As an aside, Powell & Pressburger movies have provided artistic inspiration to others for many decades later. One such example being where ‘Captain America: The First Avenger’ unashamedly lifts the scene from ‘A Matter of Life and Death’ where the pilot is being comforted by his love interest via radio as he crashes to his (presumed) death.

However, ‘Soul’ goes one step further and similar to another Pixar movie, ‘Inside Out’, ‘Soul’ (same director) throws in some complex psychological, philosophical theories to flesh out the bureaucratic aspect. Hopefully, this doesn’t make it sound dull or to complex, for me it makes it more interesting and adds another, optional layer to engage with.

After the opening titles, the rest of the movie concerns itself with Joe’s journey through (and quest to get out of) this theoretical in-between existence where he meets various bureaucrats of a varying degree of officiousness.  He also encounters the other souls in various stages of development looking to be deployed; one of these is a reluctant soul who’s been there an eternity, numbered 22 out of however many billion.

Part of the fun for me with animated movies is hearing the well-known voices and trying to guess who they are.  As usual, with Pixar, there’s a mix of the very famous and the relatively niche; Jamie Foxx and Tina Fey, Graham Norton and Richard Ayoade.

We’d watched ‘Onward’ a couple of months before this and emotionally that had a more instant, harder punch.  ‘Soul’ is a slow burner that gets right inside and stays with you a long time afterwards, which I guess is the whole point.

StoryScreenplay and story by Pete Docter, Mike Jones & Kemp Powers
CastJamie Foxx, as Joe Gardner
Tina Fey, as 22
Graham Norton, as Moonwind
Phylicia Rashad, as Libba
Angela Bassett, as Dorothea
DirectorPete Docter & Kemp Powers
Running Time106 mins
Year2020

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