Pete Docter is one of the best creative geniuses in a company full of such. He directed two of my favourite Pixar films ever, Monsters Inc. and Inside Out and now he is behind the clapperboard again for Soul, which because of the infamous World Events, may have missed its time in the sun at the cinema, but must surely be a shoo-in for Best Animated Feature at the Oscars. I did not find it as emotionally devastating as Inside Out or as rollicking and old fashioned fun as Monsters Inc, but those are ridiculously big shoes to fill and Soul takes a different approach as it takes on the ultimate depth of life and death, whilst also featuring some great Buster Keaton moments and a talking cat. It’s a winner.
The story follows Joe, a school teacher who dreams of playing the jazz circuit and being an acclaimed artist, not realising that he is already elevating the art by introducing the next generation to the jazz greats. When his dream seems to finally be in his grasp, a fall leads to his death and he tries his best to get back to earth in time to play the show. In the afterlife, he meets the as-yet-unborn (it deals not just with life and death but pre-life and after-death too, there is a lot going on in this script) 22, who does not want to be sent to Earth, so promises to help Joe get back there if he helps her…Now we are in the classic Hollywood world of Heaven Can Wait, the 1980’s body swap comedy trope (with 22 ending up in Joe’s body and Joe hilariously stuck inside a big fat cat) and the buddy movie antics of Planes, Trains & Automobiles, where the buddies are not really friends but grow closer with each ridiculous event that happens, which I will let you discover yourself as that is part of the joy of this expansive tale.
The idea of Trent Reznor soundtracking a Pixar film was a bizarre one, but the Nine Inch Nails icon shines here, there are moments that send you back to 2001 : A Space Odyssey, through both their excellent animation and Reznor’s intense Downward Spiral style instrumentals. I guess the only thing I cannot connect to in the film is the jazz motif, it is not a genre that I can get into, even though I try every time a new classic release comes out, I love the idea of the smoky old jazz club, but in 2021, not just because of the pandemic but because of the smoking ban, that does not really exist anymore. That does not mean that I cannot appreciate the idea of being into something cultish that you give your whole life to, I’ve seen Manic Street Preachers 57 times, after all. And Jazz is not really the message.
The clue is in the title, but this is such a soulful, wonderful piece of animation, whether in the perfectly recreated human world or the pre-life marshmallow vistas. There are many lessons being taught here, but none of them are preached to us, you take what you want and you cannot possibly come to the end without a fast beating heart and a smile on your face.
Soul is available now via Disney+