At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Soul “2020”

MPAA Rating: PG/ Genre: Animated Fantasy Comedy-Drama/ Voices of: Jamie Foxx, Tina Fey, Questlove, Phylicia Rashad, Daveed Diggs, Angela Bassett, Graham Norton, Rachel House, Richard Ayoade, Alice Braga, Wes Studi, Fortune Feimster, Zenobia Shroff, Donnell Rawlings, June Squibb, Cody Chesnutt, Esther Chae, John Ratzenberger, Cora Champommier, Margo Hall, Rhodessa Jones, Sakina Jaffrey, Calum Grant, Laura Mooney, Peggy Flood, Ochuwa Oghie, Jeannie Tirado, Catherine Cavadini/ Runtime: 106 minutes

I think it is safe to say that although Pixar has long made those who watch their movies engage in quite thought-provoking discussion with both others and yourself on a wide variety of topics, their latest slice of cinematic pie Soul is perhaps their most engaging. An opinion I come to due to the fact that this is a movie which literally wants you, the viewer to actually stop what you are doing and actually think really long and really hard about just how have to chosen to live your life. I mean I can’t think of that many slices of cinematic pie that have the courage to actually ask that of each and every one of us. Yet perhaps more phenomenal than that is the fact that this movie is able to be successful in that request; an aspect that is a key element to what it is that makes this brilliant animated film so novel and delightfully unique. Make no mistake though dear reader: film helmer Pete Docter has been getting us ready for this kind of comprehensive, boundary-pushing, and A-Z self-exam of how we view all that we have, and incidentally have not, done during our time on this planet. In addition, think about a lot of the tiny yet integral questions Docter has already presented us with during his other times at the helm of a Pixar film. Indeed could Carl in Up really find the will to keep living let alone enjoy life even in the absence of the love of his life Ellie? Would the emotions inside Riley from 2015’s Inside Out ever help her find peace in the wake of her family moving to a new city? Suffice it to say that if we aren’t dealing with such things, they can be overlooked. Yet Docter’s incredible sorcery is in how detailed his comprehension of how big these dilemmas in one’s life can become. Suffice it to say that the new Pixar film Soul then is his most ambitious at bat to date and he manages to completely knock it out of the park. Indeed this gorgeous, thought-provoking, moving, and quite amusing tribute to humanity’s search for our individual purposes in this world manages to be a riveting intro to a pair of instantly iconic characters from 2 distinct yet connected locales and places them on a journey that will see you dear reader actually stopping and pondering. Not only about what you have done, but also what else you would like to accomplish and if you are or aren’t doing the right things to make those potential accomplishments possible. Suffice it to say then that Soul really truly is not only old school Pixar at its finest, but it is also destined to be seen as one of the finest films that this topsy-turvy year that is 2020 sought fit to present us with.

The plot is as follows: Soul tells us the riveting story of a man by the name of Joe Gardner. Mr. Gardner, we are soon able to perceive, is a devoted and wonderful member of that organization known as teachers, but more specifically is one who tries to pass on to impressionable middle schoolers his immense love and appreciation for music. More than anything though, we see that Joe has long harbored a not-so-secret dream of getting to perform onstage; a dream he finally gets a chance to possibly fulfill after impressing his idol and her band enough to offer them a chance to perform with them at the Half Note Club later that day. However Joe’s dream is soon thrown for an unexpected curve when an unfortunate and unforeseen accident results in his soul being split away from his body and begin to head to the Great Beyond. However Joe has other plans and in the process finds himself in what is known simply as the Great Before. A place where all fledgling souls have the various facets which make them unique instilled before being sent to Earth. Now it is up to our intrepid hero to work with one such soul known only as 22 who, due to never making it to Earth, has developed quite the cantankerous and dim view on life let alone humanity to find a way back to Earth before his physical body passes on and life as he knows it finally plays that long lasting single note melody out.

Now in all fairness movie goers have paid witness to the idea of death in a movie from Pixar before. Heck with Up, the entire opening of the film is not only a tribute to love and life being lived to the max, but also to a life tragically ending as well. Yet Soul is a different animal from Up in that regard altogether. That is because in Up the death of his beloved is just a reason for why Carl has all but given up on life and only through his adventures with Russell, Doug, and Kevin does he rediscover the will to life. This film on the other hand can’t even have its core narrative come to play until our main character, for all intents and purposes, dies (bring on the waterworks). Yes that is downright dark as heck, but it is integral so that way we can then see our main hero “wake up” as a soul in the afterlife and then shake, rattle, and roll the hereafter in order to find a way, any way really, to get back to Earth. Indeed it’s one heck of an idea to say nothing of the fact that it manages to loosen the creative restraints on Docter and his top-notch squad of animators to the point that they are able to do practically anything they could want in this otherworldly afterlife. To that end, we soon see a set of guidelines be issued to our main character, and through him us, at a decent rate of speed. Guidelines such as souls stuck in the game of limbo have no senses so that beer and pizza combo a lot of college kids like would have no delicious taste or appetizing smell to it (sounds terrible I know). We also witness that souls’ human forms have the ability to “zone out”, an idea that is explored through the potent power of music in one of the more incredible moments in this film. Suffice it to say then that from a laws of animation perspective, the sky truly is the limit when it comes to what could and couldn’t work for this film and the film is all the better because of it.

Now it should be mentioned that following his personification of the various emotions that make up the core of a human being in 2015’s brilliant slice of cinematic pie Inside Out, film helmer Pete Docter has managed to come across a brilliant way to showcase our soul in the same way courtesy of the idea of all souls being located in an area known as The Great Before. It is in this place that we witness as the various souls are prepped for their trip to Earth as soon as they figure out the distinct thing that will give them their purpose whilst alive. Suffice it to say that while our intrepid hero right off the bat thinks that his “purpose” is one which revolves around music, he is unable to prove it due to being charged with aiding a lost soul by the name of 22 who, despite some terrific aid, has never figured out just what she is meant to do. Indeed it is quite the familiar ingredient in a narrative such as this to see a pair of characters with their own issues finding themselves having to buddy up in order to fix their issues as well as accomplish their goals. Yet despite being familiar, it is the magnitude of just what is occurring with the pair in this film that manages to take this film to levels that Pixar has never seen before. Indeed make no mistake dear reader: this is some truly soul-examining material that will inspire you to look deeply into yourself and make you reflect on these very things in yourself. In the movie this is best exemplified not only by the character of 22 who not only can’t find her purpose, but who is saddled with additional negativity in the form of various other souls telling her she’ll never be good enough to make it to Earth, but also by Joe being in an endless pursuit for a dream to the point that he has pushed everything else to the way side in his pursuit of it. Yet, the film asks, what if his dream is in error and the aspiration he’s been pursuing isn’t the one for him? At what point do you make that 180 and simply stop the hunt and begin living your life in accordance with what your true purpose is before it’s too late? Indeed there are no simple resolutions to these very thought-provoking questions and the film, to its immense credit, actually dares you to form your own answers more than straight up providing them for you. Be that as it may be though, I promise that you will not only respect and cherish the journey that these individuals undergo, but also comprehend the various side routes they decide to take in order to reach the resolutions that they do. This is especially true for 22 who in my personal opinion is one of the best characters Pixar has ever dared to create since she (?) is so tough to figure out, but at the same time so desperately in need of someone to guide her down the path she was meant to go down. Suffice it to say then that watching her, to say nothing of her perspective on living and just life in general change and grow really truly has been one of the most entertaining parts of my Soul viewing experience and one that I hope is equally as rewarding when I decide to rewatch this film (something I can assure you I am already in the midst of planning to do). Yet just as great as the work done by Tina Fey as 22 in this is the work done by Jamie Foxx. Indeed if his role in either Ray or Collateral has shown, this man can give one heck of a performance when working with the right material and this is some truly perfect material for him. Indeed, as Joe, Jamie is able to channel not only the passion the man has for music, but also his heart and talent to say nothing of his drive to get back when things proceed to go belly up for him as it were. Thus when you factor in 2 truly winning lead performances as well as spot-on work from the support cast, this film is given an extra boost in the magic department in the best way possible.

All in all I think it should be noted that more often than not the consensus that is delivered in regards to the majority of the films that have been put out into the world by animation powerhouse Pixar is that whilst the movies are ones which are made for the younger movie going crowds, there is still a fair bit of material, in regards to both the thought-provoking and the comedic in equal measure, in them that is there so the adults watching don’t either start urgently checking their watch every 5 minutes, fall asleep, or both. Yet with that being said that is what makes this film so intriguing to me dear reader. I say that because Soul, in an odd wrinkle of sorts, really does feel to me like a slice of cinematic pie that is perhaps a little bit more complex than the vast majority of younger audience goers can comprehend thus making me wonder if perhaps this was an animated film that was made without having them be the target audience. Now that is not saying that there isn’t an abundance of visual magic and amusing comedy at work in this film nor am I saying that your young ones will not be entertained by this film. What I am saying though is that there aren’t that many young ones out there who could begin to comprehend the crossroads, from an existence point of view, that both Joe and 22 find themselves at in this film as we see both of them really thinking if perhaps they have either wasted their lives away or maybe, just maybe they have put importance on the wrong things in their instead. Suffice it to say that those are things that only a person who’s been around as it were for a while can not only comprehend, but even appreciate an animated film for having the courage to present so that when that younger audience is ready they can come back to this film and fully respect and admire just what everyone involved in this film has managed to showcase herein. Suffice it to say then that Soul manages to come not only from the heart and brain of a truly talented cast and crew, but also from a helmer who has shown us before that he is quite gifted at making us aware of just how integral and valuable the moments in our day to day existence that perhaps we take for granted truly are. On a scale of 1-5 I give Soul “2020” a solid 4.5 out of 5.

On behalf of the At the Movies desk I would just like to wish all of you a very happy New Year’s! I know this year has been rough for a lot of you out there, but things will get better! We all have a purpose and next year I feel like we are all, in our own ways, going to be given a chance to let that purpose shine for the whole world to see! Thank you now and always for reading and I’ll see you guys next year! Ag