REVIEW: ‘Soul’ is mostly a sour experience

Pete Docter is no stranger to emotional animated features, having directed “Up” and “Inside Out.” He makes another attempt at one in his latest picture, “Soul.”

Jamie Foxx voices Joe in “Soul,” a middle-aged jazz artist and part-time music teacher. One day as he’s about to get a gig he’s been waiting for, he accidentally falls down a manhole. As a result, Joe has an out-of-body experience where his soul travels to a gateway to what’s called the Great Beyond.

Opting not to go, he instead takes another path. There he ends up in the Great Before, where souls form before going to Earth. Not long after his arrival, he meets a stubborn soul named 22 (Tina Fey), who doesn’t find Earth too appealing. The two end up having to work together as the plot develops, though.

Pixar started off on a lower point in 2020 with “Onward” and unfortunately, the studio didn’t rebound with “Soul.” The movie has some good ideas, but the way Docter brings it together is a miss.

Story-wise, the picture’s first act feels rushed, speeding through the revelation of the after (and before) life. There’s a lot to set up though, so this would have been forgivable. However, the movie only runs into more problems in the second act.

There’s a point to start the second act where the souls of both 22 and Joe travel to Earth to get back into the latter’s body. Not only does this muddy the internal consistency of the picture, it also introduces a rather tiresome part to the movie.

When 22 and Joe try to get to Earth, in a mishap, Joe ends up in a cat’s body. It leads to some stereotypical, tedious body-swap comedic points that in the grand scheme of things detract from the movie’s more serious themes. As a result, the movie runs out of steam by the time it reaches the third act.

SoulBlog
Courtesy Disney and Pixar.

It’s a shame, too, because the movie has its fair share of strong, emotional moments that can hook an audience in. Sadly, these are often fleeting. Sequences where some of Joe’s personal relationships are highlighted provide bright spots, but they can’t carry the movie.

Character-wise, Joe is a pretty good protagonist, but one can’t help but feel like the movie is hammering him from start to finish to drive the point home. His moments where he’s teaching, showing his passion, or learning some new things about life are parts to appreciate, but they seem to get undercut in the next scene.

The character 22, meanwhile, is somewhat of a roller coaster. Certainly they are supposed to be the more comic-relief personality of the two, but the humor they lend to the screen is hit and miss.

I didn’t feel as much of a connection between the two lead characters either in comparison to, say, Sadness and Joy in “Inside Out.”

Areas where Pixar consistently succeeds include music and visuals. That continues here for sure. The film has a sensational score that captures one’s attention and it’s gorgeous to look at.

The animation of the movie does have an issue, though. A weakness is in the design of the souls themselves. The look feels too simplistic and it seems like the studio was more concerned with making them more marketable. I found the concept of the afterlife to be much more interestingly designed in “Coco.”

On the surface, “Soul”has what one wants in an animated film. It looks great, has a committed voice cast, wonderful music and a good premise. Yet it’s still hollow, all things considered. Some of it works, but not enough. 2.75 out of 5.

Author: Matthew Liedke

Journalist and film critic in Minnesota. Graduate of Rainy River College and Minnesota State University in Moorhead. Outside of movies I also enjoy sports, craft beers and the occasional video game.

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