When it comes to Pixar films, it’s very rare that they have a bad day at the office in terms of releasing feature films. Unless you’re talking about the CARS franchise, every one of their films range from good to incredible in my opinion, so I’m always eagerly awaiting their next outing. Amidst everything going on in the world, Disney decided to drop their latest Pixar film SOUL (2020) on Disney+, which surely would have made millions for them from families in theatres. Honestly, it’s too bad this film didn’t make it to theatres, because it’s pretty great. This is the definition of a film that looks and feels like a movie made for kids, but the existential messages throughout will probably go over the heads of a younger audience. Here’s why, although not perfect, SOUL is one of the best movies to have received a 2020 release.
Joe Gardner, a middle-aged man who has yet to make a mark on the world, falls to his death on the day of his big break as a pianist. Immediately entering a soul-like world where is must discover what it truly means to be alive, this film sends you on a journey that will have your mind wandering. From thought-provoking messages to eye-opening revelations about humanity, SOUL is one of the more realistic stories that Pixar has ever told, just with a fun look for children. On multiple occasions, I found myself swept up in the subtle use of musical cues or even when hardly any music was being heard at all. I’m also a sucker for films that revolve around music and they decide to play with the music or sound design, so that may also make me a little biased in that regard. It also didn’t hurt that Disney picked up Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross to score the film.
Now for a quick detour into where I feel certain viewers will see issues, as well as myself. Personally, I found this film started off far too profound to the point where I didn’t even know what it was trying to say. I put things together and I was eventually right by the end of SOUL, but I would say there are moments when the film feels slightly unfocused or gets caught up in its own world. It’s about a soul world after you die, but the messages of life and living, in general, were slightly lost in translation sometimes. Still, the overall message and life lessons that are brought to fruition in the final act more than made up for a few of these missteps.
For many years now, even with INSIDE OUT (2015), the classic Pixar feel has been thrown out the window in my opinion. When you go back and look at TOY STORY (1995), A BUG’S LIFE (1998), MONSTERS INC. (2001), WALL-E (2008), and many more, you can absolutely identify them as Pixar movies. SOUL, along with other films like THE GOOD DINOSAUR (2015), BRAVE (2012), and even INSIDE OUT, feels just like another film animated by Disney. That’s not a bad thing at all, because this film is great all around, but the Pixar brand feels looser and looser as the year’s progress. SOUL honestly felt like a mash-up of Pixar and Disney animation, especially when jumping back and forth from the soul world to reality.
Overall, you should expect nothing less from Pixar/Disney to release a film that’s gorgeous to look at. Once again, they knocked it out of the park visually, adding another layer to the story as a whole. A bit of the narrative, as I said, will be lost in translation for some, but I thought the idea of the film, along with the final message, added up to a fantastic film. SOUL may not be one of Pixar’s best films, but it’s a great one, and in a year like 2020, that’s a huge win. I loved watching this movie.