Pete Docter, the man who directed Up, Inside Out and Monsters, Inc. is back with a new animation flick for Pixar, and that is reason enough to get excited if you are a toon movie buff. Soul mostly lives up to the hype that preceded the film, serving an entertainer for all ages and pushing the envelope on animation art spectacularly with signature Pixar relish.
The film is about a jazz pianist who finds himself in the ‘Great Beyond’ after an accident, except that he is not quite ready to go. The idea sounds sombre, but the film is actually executed with cheerful relish.
Jamie Foxx voices Joe Gardner the pianist, bringing alive the vision of writer-director Pete Docter and his co-writers (Kemp Powers and Mike Jones) as the narrative unfolds the protagonist’s adventure. Joe slips into the ‘Great Before’, where each life gets a soul before coming to Earth. As he looks for a way to return home, Joe finds a purpose in mentoring the soul 22 (voice of Tina Fey).
For an animation film that primarily aims to attract children, Docter’s narrative sure is brave in the way it gets going with the idea of death at the core of its storyline. But then Joe’s death is not disturbing in the manner the story depicts it. Rather, the film cleverly crafts fantasy while imagining what happens after life.
The highlight here, not surprisingly, is the animation. Pixar creativity brings alive New York City with as much realism as it imparts vivid imagination to ‘Great Before’. You get the idea that Docter and his team of storytellers were not exactly out to narrate a pathbreaking story with this film. The focus, rather, is on setting up an engaging watch using familiar tropes, which talk of the importance of loving life and the need to find a purpose of existence.
Jamie Foxx and Tina Fey do justice to their voice-casting as Joe the pianist and 22. Angela Bassett is a cast highlight, too, as Dorothea the jazz musician.
With Soul, Pixar just took the grand art of mixing the cute and the complex to a new level, as they have been consistently doing with almost every new release. The film gets its balance of emotion and entertainment just right, with a hint of a metaphysical subtext for desired narrative heft. Soul is feel-good fun with its cinematic aesthetics in place.
Soul (on Disney+ Hotstar); Voice cast: Jamie Foxx, Tina Fey, Angela Bassett, Questlove, Phylicia Rashad, Daveed Diggs, Graham Norton, Alice Braga; Direction: Pete Docter
–ians, VINAYAK CHAKRAVORTY