Directed by: Pete Docter
Written by: Pete Docter, Mike Jones and Kemp Powers
Starring: Jamie Foxx, Tina Fey, Graham Norton, Rachel House, Alice Braga, Richard Ayoade, Questlove and Angela Bassett
In 2015, Pixar allowed their audience to journey inside the mind of an 11-year-old girl. Inside Out told the story of the pre-pubescent Riley, as she struggles to control her core emotions, personified in the film as Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear and Disgust. The film takes place almost entirely in Riley's mind and Pixar’s genuinely innovative animation allows the audience to visualise these emotions. Joy, voiced by Amy Poehler, is an overly-excitable extrovert who looks suspiciously like a glowing, hipster, Marge Simpson. Sadness, voiced by Phyllis Smith, is a stodgy, all blue, librarian type. Inside Out is essentially a bildungsroman but it also has a lot of very astute things to say about how balancing our emotions can lead to our overall well-being i.e. taking the bad with the good.
In 2017, the same studio released Coco, a film about the afterlife, family and legacy set during Mexico’s celebration of the dead or Dia de los Muertos. Both films have positive messages for children, but arguably it is the adult audience that will come away with more. The same can be said for what could be described as the third installment of the studio’s metaphysical trilogy, Soul. Soul is a film that is to be experienced and very hard to describe, here’s a shot at it. In Soul, a Jazz musician, Joe Gardner (voiced by Jamie Foxx), is so passionate about his art, he lives and breathes it. In middle-age, after years of rejection, he finally gets his big break. As luck would have it, Joe falls down a man-hole to his death just minutes after his successful audition. Those who have seen Inside Out and Coco will know Pixar’s knack for making metaphysical concepts, visually accessible. Joe has left his physical body and his soul is on a conveyor belt to the ‘Great Beyond’. However, Joe is not having it. He has worked too hard all his life to die on the same day he gets his big break.
Soul is a Pixar animation at its cleverest and most visually stimulating. How far this animation studio has come since it’s first film Toy Story (1995) is not to be underestimated. Their goal is not naturalism but to create a sense of wonder. Soul has truly made this reviewer appreciate the world around him more. It is a tonic for the cynic. Structurally it follows the same narrative beats as Inside Out and Coco. An odd couple race against time to ‘save the day’. Pixar however seem to be upping the stakes each time. In Inside Out, Joy and Sadness race against time to save the personality of a 11-year-old girl. In Coco, Miguel (voiced by Anthony Gonzalez) and Hector (voiced by Gael Garcia Bernal) race against time to get Miguel back to the land of the living and to stop Hector from fading into nothingness. In Soul, a pre-born, agoraphobic, misanthropic soul (voiced by Tina Fey) must team up with the soul of a dead Jazz musician in order to bring him back to life and give him the shot that he truly deserves. Phew.
Soul shares with Coco the belief that music is the language of the soul. However, the ending to Soul, that is to say Joe’s character arc, is more emotionally realistic than Coco and within this ending Soul manages to achieve something beyond the simple validation we usually get at the end of a Pixar film. Shout out to the voice-work of Graham Norton, surely his highest profile Hollywood gig. He plays Moonwind, a spiritual sign twirler and all-around modern day hippie who can connect souls with the living while riding a mystical pirate ship that blasts Bob Dylan’s Subterranean Homesick Blues from it’s speakers. What more would you want?