Voices-Jamie Foxx, Tina Fey
Scott’s Review #1,172
Reviewed August 18, 2021
It’s quite reassuring when a magical animated feature comes down the pike. Too often, the mainstream multiplex summer offerings are trite or too ‘kiddish’ for my tastes. Soul (2020) is creative, colorful, sentimental, with a terrific musical score composed by Trent Reznor (Nine Inch Nails).
The writing is fresh and inventive with gorgeous animation that feels magical. I did not see the film on the big screen and bet it would have made the experience even more delightful.
Soul is not too dark nor is it too trivial. It contains the perfect balance of humanism, darkness, and hope. In fact, the title can be construed with a double meaning. Based on the musical angle, the lead character is a piano player, the soul could mean rhythm, but I’m only half right. An out-of-body or celestial experience and the essence of a living being are also part of his soul.
While watching the film I kept ruminating over how lovely and inspirational a film like Soul is during a crushing pandemic. It has heart and magic.
Unfulfilled music teacher Joe Gardner (Jamie Foxx) finally lands the gig of a lifetime at the best jazz club in town supporting legendary Dorothea Williams (Angela Bassett). But his excitement gets the best of him and he stumbles into a manhole on a New York City street.
Lying comatose, Joe enters a fantastical place: The Great Before. There, he teams up with soul 22 (Tina Fey), and together they find the answers to some of life’s biggest questions while embarking on a journey in the switched bodies of Joe and a therapy cat.
Set in the massive Big Apple itself the film offers so much hustle, bustle, and life. I adored the setting. The smokey jazz club with sultry set design and creative music made me immersed in the wonderful surroundings.
The story itself slightly confused me when Joe arrives in the “Great Beyond” as a soul. Assuming this meant death I was relieved when he backtracked to the “Great Before” and met with counselors all named Jerry. The counselors, I realized, prepare unborn souls for life with the help of mentor souls. This didn’t grip me as much as other characteristics of the film.
Foxx and Fey are fine doing the voices for Joe and 22 respectively but they are not the highlight either. I never really thought of either of them throughout the duration. There were better aspects to focus on.
Disney/Pixar featuring a black central character is worthy of mention and it is about time. Obviously, Joe’s family is black adding a wonderful mother figure and supporting characters of ethnicity to the fold.
The music, the music, the music! This makes Soul as good a film as it is. Trent Reznor’s collaboration alone made me eager to see it. His creative use of keyboards and partnership with fellow Nine Inch Nails bandmate Atticus Ross provides proper ambiance to the metaphysical sequences. A hallucinogenic trance-like musical beat is unique and trippy.
Younger children may be perplexed or bewildered by much of the activity so I’m not sure I’d recommend that demographic but music fans and admirers of rich stories with a subtext of life will enjoy the experience and subsequent message that Soul (2020) provides.
Oscar Nominations: Best Animated Feature Film (won), Best Original Score (won), Best Sound