By Andrew Martinez Cabrera
“I don’t know if it’s going to get better than that, so why is it that I still don’t feel like everything’s buttoned up and fixed in my life?” said co-director Pete Docter, who conceived the idea for his latest film Soul when his last film (Inside Out) broke all conceivable records, but still felt incomplete. Docter’s quote summarizes the entire meaning behind Soul, and could very well be a line of dialogue spoken by protagonist Joe Gardner (Jamie Foxx), a school band teacher who dreams of making a living off a jazz career, despite all odds being against him.
Docter’s features tend to swim in similar waters, with his themes being shifting waves; the changes between waves are noticeable enough, but they basically look and feel the same. Monsters, Inc., Inside Out, and now Soul deal with administrative and paradisiacal worlds, mixing business culture with science-fiction. Soul tackles the age-old question: “What is our life’s purpose?” – with the vessel being “The Great Before,” an ethereal plain of existence where the soul resides before taking a mortal form. Though sounding heavy for a kid’s movie, Docter and team fill “The Great Before” to the brim with colorful exteriors, obligatory animated cute characters (the souls), and your expository and comedic guides, the soul counselors. The conversation evolves as Garnder’s cynical counterpart, 22 (Tina Fey) finds nothing ecstatic about life, but of course by the end of the film, her view changes. Gardner, and in turn, the audience, learns that our lives shouldn’t solely be about chasing success and our dreams, but rather “liv[ing] every minute of [life].”
Soul comes to us following a string of passable original films and the 10+ year late sequels, and stands above most of Pixar’s films of the last decade. With breathtaking animation that places classic caricature humans in painstakingly realistic environments, clever writing and performances, and the soothing score that mixes Jon Batiste’s lively jazz orchestrations with Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ heavenly soundscape and melodies brilliantly (the standout being the subtle combination of both musical stylings during the “epiphany” scene), Soul will be fondly remembered by most. Though underdeveloped in its ideas and packaged with a predictable message towards the end, it was enough to satisfy me. At the end, I felt more like Joe Gardner in the beginning of the film: wanting more.