Fans of animation – particularly Disney animation – approach a new Disney/Pixar film nearly holding their breath. The late 2000s trifecta of Ratatouille, Wall-E, and Up set such high standards in animation and storytelling that even the sterling studio itself struggles to replicate that brilliance. The past ten years brought more hugely popular and Oscar-winning films (Inside Out, Coco, Toy Story 4), but that spark of imagination and sense of something completely new previously seen, more often than not, evades the studio.
Following on the heels of the perfectly fine Onward, Soul comes with an enormous amount of new expectations. Many saw the initial trailers and thought it was a retread of Inside Out. Plus, it comes with the added weight of being Disney/Pixar’s first animated film told completely from a Black perspective. Turns out, opening their sterling animation and storytelling standards to new perspectives and ideals breathes new life into the beloved studio.
Soul tells the story of Joe Gardner (brilliantly voiced by Jamie Foxx), a middle school band teacher who dreams of making a career out of his beloved jazz. After earning a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to play with the Dorothea Williams Quartet (Dorothea Williams is voiced by Angela Bassett), Joe falls into a manhole and enters The Great Before. There, he’s paired with wayward soul 22 (Tina Fey), and the two become permanently intertwined in ways I dare not spoil.
Needless to say, I love this film.
I love the stunning and imaginative visuals of The Great Before. I love the moments where the film stops and lets you take in the splendor of jazz and of piano and of colors and lights and shading and shadows. I love how New York in the fall avoids feeling standardly rendered and is as lovingly rendered as anything Pixar has ever put to film. I love the inventive score by the great duo of Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. I love the moments of real comedy and the moments of deep empathy for its characters. I love how it takes risks with hefty material (likely some of the most adult in the Disney/Pixar canon) and doesn’t dumb it down for kids. Ultimately, I love its message of self-discovery and how you may not necessarily be defined by what you originally thought defined you.
I will say no more. Soul is a film you need to discover for yourself without spoilers. In the end, what it left me was renewed hope that Disney/Pixar films will grow from this brilliantly executed journey into inclusive filmmaking. I want them to create more content from unique, underserved, and incredibly worthy perspectives.
To use that Disney/Pixar storytelling magic and give us brilliantly executed new worlds.
That is the magic of Soul.
Soul premieres on Disney Plus on December 25.