Pixar promised fans a new animated feature film in 2020 after COVID-19 impacted the release of Onward in March. This film was of course Soul and would be exclusively released on Disney+. Unlike the controversial release of the live-action remake of Mulan, however, Disney+ would not force viewers to pay an additional fee on top of their monthly charge for the streaming service this time around. Instead the film would be readily available on December 25th 2020 for all subscribers.
For the past few years I have had some trouble getting excited for animated films. The only movie that truly caught my attention were all sequels to my childhood favourites. These were Incredibles 2 and Toy Story 4. There were no Disney/Pixar original animated films that made me excited for their release. Then came along the trailer for Soul. I heard the voices of Jamie Foxx and Tina Fey and I was already hooked. Then I watched the trailer about a tale of a man who had not caught his big break in life yet. When he does, the worst thing that could happen to him occurs — he tragically passes away (don’t worry, this is not a spoiler).
The three core elements that will be analysed within Soul are:
- Voice acting
- Animation style
- The overall message
Soul really went all out in regards to voice casting. There was no miscasting in this film. The central voice cast consists of:
- Jamie Foxx as Joe Gardner, the protagonist who is a part time high school music teacher and jazz pianist who is yet to have his big break and has his soul separated from his body
- Tina Fey as 22, a soul trapped in the Great Before who has no wish to begin her life
- Questlove as Curley, a former student of Joe who he taught to play the drums
- Phylicia Rashad as Libba Gardner, Joe’s mother who opposes Joe’s music career
- Angela Bassett as Dorothea Williams, a respected jazz musician
- Graham Norton as Moonwind, a spiritual sign twirler
- Rachel House as Terry, a soul counter in the Great Beyond and basically the antagonist
- Richard Ayoade, Alice Braga, Wes Studi, Fortune Feimster and Zenobia Shroff as soul counsellors in the Great Before who are all named Jerry
This ensemble voice cast demands your attention every time their character speaks. Jamie Foxx as Joe asks for your attention the same way a teacher does — by making you see the best possible outcome in any given situation. However, Joe sometimes uses the power within his voice in a negative manner. Tina Fey as 22 makes you remember how silly life really is. Questlove as Curley is the voice of trust and opportunity. While Phylicia Rashad as Libba, Joe’s mother is the judgemental tone needed to bring that sense of drama to the story.
The secondary voice cast, made up of Angela Bassett as Dorothea, brings a demanding tone to her role as Joe’s idol. Graham Norton offers a whimsical aura as always for his character Moonwind. Rachel House as Terry the accountant or soul counter in the Great Beyond is perfectly cast and embodies the comedic timing needed to play a Disney antagonist. While Richard Ayoade, Alice Braga, Wes Studi, Fortune Feimster and Zenobia Shroff voice the many Jerrys, aka soul counsellors in the great before, in effortless style. They bring their own unique flair to the identical Jerry characters they all voice.
The animation style proves to be a strong focus point of Soul. The film blends together Pixars well known 3D animation with 2D abstract animation. This blend of animation styles is really what makes Soul so aesthetically pleasing. All the characters of the real world are these colourful and vibrant 3D animations we are used to in the Pixar universe. The way Joe’s hands move when he plays the piano is almost life like. It does not seem like animation at all. It seems like they utilised Jamie Foxx and his real hands. The way his fingers sway from one note to another. These 3D animation sequences of Joe playing the piano is where Soul shines brightest in its visual story telling.
Pixar somehow manages to create the same emotion with its 2D abstract animation for the soul counsellors. This lack of detail in these 2D abstract animations ironically shows the most emotions due to their ability to shape shift into various 2D animations in a comical fashion. Jerry’s have no colour, no whimsical features. They are white 2D stick figures who somehow exhibit the most emotion in the film and actually, in my opinion, have the best scenes in the film.
THE OVERALL MESSAGE
The heart of any good film is the message it is giving viewers. While Disney/Pixar animated films are aimed at children, the message, however, tugs at the heart strings of adults 99% of the time. I personally connected with Joe’s message to the audience when he confronts his mother. He finally decides that running is no longer an option, he has to confront his mother head on and let her know he is in charge of his life, and whatever decisions he makes, right or wrong are his decisions to make.
The second message heard loud and clear is that the goals we achieve may not always bring us happiness, and we need to be prepared for a scenario where the goals we strive for do not actually give us the satisfaction we thought it would. Joe feels this following his big break. He worked and worked and finally got his big break and it was not all he thought it would be. However he vowed to truly live in every minute of his life after failing to feel the euphoria of joy he thought he would feel after he achieved his one goal in life.
Soul is a must watch for all ages. Millennials know all too well that feeling of being criticised by family and friends for following a dream that they believe are not worthwhile. Soul offers viewers a heart-warming look into the world of Joe Gardner and lost soul 22, and brings home a beautiful message, stunning visuals and an outstanding voice cast. Soul needs to be watched. If you do anything before 2020 rounds up, watch Soul.