Coming to Disney+ on Christmas day, we got the opportunity to see Disney Pixar’s Soul a little bit earlier as part of London Film Festival 2020.
Directed by Pete Docter (Monsters Inc., UP and Inside Out) and co-directed by Kemp Powers, Soul follows Joe Gardner, a middle school band teacher who dreams of one day having his ‘big moment’ on stage. When he finally gets the gig of his dreams, his life is abruptly cut short in a freak manhole accident. Attempting to escape ‘The Great Beyond’ he sets off an adventure through ‘The Great Before’ teaming up with Soul 22, a soul who is as desperate to avoid Earth as Joe is to get back.
There’s plenty to love in Soul, yet it feels completely overstuffed and at times unoriginal. The film is distinctly split up into time in ‘The Great’ and time on Earth. Unfortunately, the two split narratives don’t gel well together.
The sequences in the before and after are stunning. A mixture of multiple animation types combined make for exciting viewing and the story touches on many grand ideas. A sequence towards the end that visually animates anxiety and depression is incredibly moving and it’s moments like this where the film is at its best. Unfortunately, despite equally gorgeous animation, large parts of the Earth segments feel ripped out of countless other films, and too often the film leans on body-swap comedy tropes rather than leaning into the earnestness that usually makes Pixar films so special and different.
It’s possible that the film was just trying to do too much in a short space of time, but it is important to note that what it does well, it does incredibly well. Music is an integral part of Soul, Joe believes music is his spark, he was put on the Earth to play. Spark indeed the music does, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross composed the film’s score with Jon Batiste writing jazz songs for the film. Moments, where Joe becomes lost in his music, will leave the hairs on your arms standing up, as his love for music make him start to transcend into another moment. Moments with the people in Joe’s life are equally touching – be it a conversation in a barbershop or a confrontation with his mother. We are at times able to feel completely linked to Joe and seeing the world through both his and Soul 22’s eyes is a wonderful thing.
The third act and final sequence in the Soul realm is beautiful and moving. A truly touching moment and a moving message – everything I would expect from Pixar and more, that whilst not leaving me in tears, did give me chills. It’s just unfortunate for me that so much of the middle plot got in the way.