A Whole Lotta…

Welllll… this is a long-delayed review!  I watched Soul back when it premiered back last xmas, watched it again soon thereafter, and have been wanting to write about it since then.  Soul is engaging, nifty, clever, and has a lovely philosophical core.  It’s top rate Pixar.  So let’s dive in!

Spoilers Ahead….

  • Given it’s Pixar, it’s no surprise that it’s gorgeously animated. Especially all the sequences in the Great Before, with the pinnacle being the Jerrys.  They must have had fun creating and drawing and working out all those cubist-like entities, but even the souls and Joe’s astral form and everything is clever and cool.  Beautiful work.
  • That’s not to say the real world isn’t also well rendered, for it is! They even do an amazing job of representing a sweat filled brow!  That’s something nifty.
  • Am I reading too much into the fact that 22 has violet eyes like Judy Hopps does? Or am I only noticing that because of how much I love Zootopia… ?
  • The music, oh wow, the music is KILLER. Sure, one would hope that a movie with a musician and with music as a central point (tying even directly into the theme in a multitude of ways) would have good music, but this goes even above and beyond, because it’s not just good jazz, it’s the contrast that arises between the score by Reznor and Ross and the jazz pieces by Batiste.
  • The score itself is this ethereal melange coupled with strong melodic beats, and its just a delight…
  • But then comes the moment when the two styles meet at the crux of the movie (in a piece appropriately named Epiphany) and its just WOW.
  • And let’s talk more about that piece, because I get chills every time I listen to it… the simple and semi-repetitive bit on the piano that just lingers and manages to be incredibly evocative despite of (or perhaps exactly because of) it’s simplicity, bracketed by the ethereal background… it’d downright powerful in a way that is hard to explain, but undeniably moving. (In some ways it’s akin to what I was speaking about yesterday, with how the repetition heightens everything else, including the feeling of how its being played, and that feeling comes through in spades.  Also, this piece is clever in that it begins repeating one motif, then begins an overlapping repeat, then shifts out of the original repeat and makes that the counterpart to the new repeat… as I said, it’s killer.  I’ve listened to it dozens upon dozens of times.
  • I gotta talk about how they made the cat thing work. Because, during my first watch when that happened I went both “What?” and “Oh no….”   The former because I wasn’t expecting it (from the little bit of trailers I had seen I was expecting a film more rooted within the Great Before) and the latter because I was seriously worried they’d left what was interesting for something that’s an overused/hackneyed plot.  And that it would only be used in a “hijinks ensue” kind of way.  But…  surprisingly… it really worked.  And it worked because they always kept it firmly tied to the film’s theme and what they were exploring, and as such tied to the journey the characters were on.  It wasn’t just used as a gag; it was used for a PURPOSE.
  • It is enticing to make some comparisons with Inside Out: they’re both dealing with some pretty metaphysical things and they’re both directed by Pete Docter. (Plus I’d say it could be argued that all of Docter’s films deal one way or another with our inner lives.)  That said, what they are exploring is quite different, as is how they portray it.  So, there’s only two bits I’ll directly compare, both on the storytelling level:
  • The first is that Soul avoids the issue of Inside Out where the middle act is mostly nonsensical whimsy. Not that whimsy is bad per se, but in that middle bit of Inside Out there are a lot of bits that are not that much connected to what’s happening as the story or the themes or the characters.  Instead, they seem to exist primarily just to be fun gags and to pad the runtime.  Here Soul avoids this, with no middle fluff and a tighter integration with the theme, with all that happens – even the fun gags – feeling as though they forward the story.  (And by this I mean not just forwarding the plot, but forwarding the actual story being told, the soul, if you will, of the movie.)
  • The second is that Docter has a habit of using clichéd jokes and situations to elicit cheap laughs. There are a few cases like that in Soul – sleepy cat in sunbeam, licking catbutt, etc – but fortunately nothing as egregious as what happened in Inside Out (where the inner lives of the mother and father are revealed to be sitcom gender stereotypes, ugh…).  While they are uninspired, they are short and as such don’t detract, though it would be nicer if he’d step up his game to reach for better humorous interludes.
  • To double down on the above, the film as a whole maintains a strong commitment to its theme and what its exploring, and as a direct result of that focus and attention it feels tight all the way through.
  • Even the choice of using Jazz/a Jazz musician is in service of the theme! Improv, no beginning, no end, playing with what comes towards you, all of it is a great metaphor for the journey Joe is on…
  • While there are some things that happen in the film that happen too fast, or are too convenient, or are a bit contrived, here again the attention to theme and the actual story does wonders to keep those awkward bits from being glaring and detracting from the experience.
  • As for all that theme, exploration, and story in service of its rich philosophical core, there’s a lot to delve in to and to say! And I will!  Soon….
  • Given Docter gave us the amazing intro to Up (some of the most powerful 10 minutes of film ever made), it’s no surprise here that this movie manages to set everything up and get the whole story rolling in about 8 minutes in a way that does not feel rushed or like necessary exposition. Solid storytelling.
  • At the other end of the film, it’s also great how it takes what would be the story/plot’s resolution in most other movies (Joe gets what he wants!) – especially in this particular genre of movie (He’s achieved his dream of being a famous star!) – and instead makes it the crisis point.  This is the crux, the inflection, both for the character and the next bits that will bring the (real) story home.  Well done.
  • Love the “Just a box!” box!
  • Thierry’s way of moving around the ‘real’ world was super nifty and inventive.
  • And I absolutely love, love, love the jump to earth with 22 and Joe at the end, when her beacon begins to pull her… the look they share between them, the single, small nod from Joe, letting go of the hand… oh its so good, hits me right in the feels.

On the whole I rate Soul as Good Plus. It’s beautiful, inventive, fun, told well, and has plenty of heart.  Above all, its philosophical core engages and creates a great opportunity for reflection and realization.  Soul has immediately rocketed up to be my 3rd favourite Pixar film… top shelf work for sure.  Definitively worth seeking out.

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