Film review: Pixar's Soul

Pixar Animation Studios’ feature film “Soul,” Joe Gardner is a middle-school band teacher whose true passion is playing jazz. 

Pixar Animation Studios’ feature film “Soul,” Joe Gardner is a middle-school band teacher whose true passion is playing jazz. - Credit: PIXAR

Directed by Pete Docter and Kemp Powers. Starring Jamie Foxx, Tina Fey, Graham Norton, Rachel House, Richard Ayoade, Alice Braga and Angela Bassett. Available to stream on Disney + from Christmas Day. Running time: 100 mins. Star Rating ****

That the last Friday of the year sees the new Pixar film arriving not in cinemas but on television is a sadness made more poignant by this being perhaps the first Pixar film in a decade to recapture what once made their films almost transcendent.

I know that many of you adore Inside Out and Coco but for me, Pixar hasn't been Pixar since Up. A return to form would be a marvellous spirit lift at the end of a drudge of a year but, for the time being, the social distanced audience that saw its world premiere at the London Film Festival will be the only people to see it on a big screen.

The title is Soul, but the subject is Jazz. (See, that's how good Pixar are: they can even make jazz magical.) On the day the film starts, Joe Gardiner (Foxx), a jazz pianist who teaches music at a New York school, finally gets his big break. And then he dies. Once he has passed over, Gardiner struggles to escape from the other side and get another chance at life. But having settled in for a Pixar version of A Matter of Life and Death, the film then throws all kinds of unexpected turns at you.

In truth, the storyline is a bit convoluted and its concepts a little unwieldy. Director Docter still seems to have some unfinished business with his previous film Inside Out because he reworks a lot of themes and visuals here.

In Disney and Pixar’s “Soul,” a middle-school band teacher named Joe Gardner gets the chance of a lifetime to play the piano in a jazz quartet 

In Disney and Pixar’s “Soul,” a middle-school band teacher named Joe Gardner gets the chance of a lifetime to play the piano in a jazz quartet - Credit: PIXAR


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To nitpick, some of the visualisations of the afterlife don't really grab your imagination and it's possible young children won't fully connect to it.

The animation though, is arguably better than ever. Pixar has taken one clear step forward in that the humans are much more lifelike than in previous films. People were always a problem before, but there are moments when Gardiner's face expresses quite complex and subtle emotions.

In Disney and Pixar’s “Soul,” a middle-school band teacher named Joe Gardner (Jamie Foxx) makes one small misstep which takes him from the streets of New York City to The Great Before

In Disney and Pixar’s “Soul,” a middle-school band teacher named Joe Gardner (Jamie Foxx) makes one small misstep which takes him from the streets of New York City to The Great Before—a fantastical place where new souls get their personalities, quirks and interests before they go to Earth - Credit: PIXAR

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Best of all, Pixar has lessened The Prod on this picture; it doesn't strongarm audiences towards the desired emotional response. It's still manipulative and the plot is full of contrivances, but the emotional moments are subtle and unexpected. They feel real.

http://www.halfmanhalfcritic.com/ for a review of the Criterion collection release of Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Two Takes.

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