By Mr. Will Wong
Disney•Pixar have done it AGAIN. Peter Docter who directed classics Up, Inside Out and Monsters, Inc. returns with SOUL which wholeheartedly lives up to its succinct name.
This heartfelt story centers on a music teacher Joe Gardner (Jamie Foxx), who finally gets his big break playing in a Quartet at famed Half Note Club. After an accident, his soul gets separated from his body and he finds himself fighting to escape the Great Beyond, and lands in the Great Before, where unborn souls are assigned personalities before they enter the world. He meets 22 (Tina Fey), a soul who has sat stagnant for many years, not knowing her purpose and exactly what it is that is stopping her from being able to proceed further. The pair wind up sneaking back to earth but in the scurry, 22‘s soul accidentally takes over Joe’s body and Joe finds his soul in the body of a cat. The two are in a race against time and Joe has to find a way for his soul to get back to his body before it dies and he loses his chance at a big break.
SOUL hits all the right notes precisely and we love the way in which it runs and riffs in its exploration of the meaning of life, approaching it in a playful way. Ultimately, it finds itself late as something meaningful and hopeful and these are themes the world needs more of in these trying times. Above this, the CGI is a gold standard and if anything, a love letter to the heart and soul of New York, whether it is capturing its grimy subways or its illuminated evening skyline. The Music by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross also is unforgettable, whether it be the sophisticated Jazz that Joe is playing or the edgy Electronica we hear when he is in limbo between earth and the great beyond.
Foxx captures Joe’s search for himself perfectly, knowing exactly what it is in his character that has held him back so late in life, while Fey is a great choice as well, taking 22 through her own journey, coming alive when she takes over Joe‘s body. While not in it for much, Phylicia Rashad as Joe‘s mom Libba, is fantastic. One particular scene which has Joe pleading to her to fix-up his suit is an emotional turning point for the Film and his character.
SOUL not only is a perfect Holiday feel-good movie, it is one of the year’s best. And lucky for us, it arrives fittingly on Christmas Day via Disney+ to be enjoyed at home.