I love animation. It’s part of my day job, and I don’t get to do enough of it. But I love watching animation from others, too. Have since I was a little kid. Saturday morning cartoons? I lived for that. Today, the best of the best in 3D animation is, indisputably, the work of Pixar. There, the story is the thing. From Toy Story to The Incredibles, Cars to Coco, they all have two things in common – great animation and story über alles. The Great Pandemic of 2020 screwed up almost everything, but movies were hit particularly hard. Who wants to go to a movie theatre and sit for two hours breathing other people’s germs, right? Even if you are (like me) someone who believes we all need to get on with our lives where we can, and go on living, a movie theatre seems like a big risk. So it’s particularly sad that Pixar’s latest will likely never get the attention it so richly deserves, because Soul is an absolute gem.
This one hit close to home. It’s the story of a jazz musician who teaches middle school band, but yearns for the the thrill of a gig with a world-class group. Just as he gets his chance, an accident thrusts him into what amounts to a place between life and death, where he learns a lot, not the least being the meaning of life itself.
The movie is vastly entertaining – enough physical comedy for kids, abut enough story, subtext, subtle humor and deep questions to keep adults fully engaged. Those deep questions are so cleverly intertwined with the story that you may not realize you’re being encouraged to think about them until you’re already deep in thought. Another huge plus for me – there’s no slamming religion, cheap shots at Conservatives, Trump, or anybody else, for that matter. And while most of the characters in the movie are black, it doesn’t matter. Nobody plays the “race card.” It’s just a story. There is never any attempt to preach diversity, race, inclusion, or anything else other than figuring out where you fit in life.
The visuals? Oh. My. God. They reference everything from classics like A Dot and a Line to previous Pixar films. Lots of inside jokes. And the music? How ’bout John Batiste for the jazz score, and Trent Reznor for the ‘Great Before’ sequences. Note perfect, all. Even better, the Pixar folks recorded performances with MIDI, and (I suspect) must have video’d or motion-captured things, because (for the first time in memory) the animation tracks the musical performances perfectly. Even the drums (which are usually an afterthought) are dead-on perfect. Wow.
This flick is an absolute joy. My wife wasn’t that jazzed about watching an animated film, especially one nominally about jazz. But she gamely and graciously agreed to watch it with me (thanks, hon!), figuring she could play on her phone throughout. She didn’t. She got caught up in the story from the get-go, and found it every bit as entertaining and inspiring as I did. “I felt goosebumps,” she said, when the musician finally got his big break, and played with a jazz superstar. Yep. It’s that good. It’s also got world-class voice talent (Jamie Foxx, Tina Fey, Graham Norton, and more), but you won’t really notice it, nor should you. This movie stands on it’s own.
If you have a subscription to Disney+, watch it. If you don’t forget WW84. It’s crap compared to this. If you want to see a great movie that will make you feel good about life in general and your’s in particular, Watch Soul. It’s got…soul.