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  • Writer's pictureS.J.

'Soul' Review: Jazz Pianist Goes To The Afterlife In This Existential Fantasy Dramedy

Joe Gardner walking on a zebra crossing

In a year where Pixar had uncharacteristically two films released after feeding you with few nostalgia trippy sequels (Toy Story, Cars, Incredibles), you might have been slightly worried about the animation studio’s output turning to ’’good’’ instead of ’’great’’, especially if you watched ’Onward’ earlier. But maybe you don’t have to worry at all since the year’s second release, Soul which is directed by Pete Docter (also co-writer with Kemp Powers and Mike Jones), once again reminds you how these films can affect even adults and even surprise you to an extent. Unveiled is a story of a part-time music teacher Joe Gardner (Jamie Foxx) trying to bring his body and soul back together on Earth after an accident while he’s also aiming for his dream of being a professional jazz musician. What is fun to see that not every animated film has to take the craft further nowadays if it finds its own story and voice to tell in style.

Soul’s revelation is that it genuinely, for the first time in a while for the studio, finds ways to take the path less travelled multiple times. After the story-moving accident it doesn’t overwhelm you with exposition or a colourful journey in ’’The Great Beyond’’ but instead the script starts hitting with jokes that alternate between being for young kids and adults, also trying to get the action back to Earth which in fact is the driving factor of Joe’s story. When doing just that, we get to run to places that are unexpected for an animated film - black owned barbershop, Joe’s mom’s workplace, off-street jazz club - which all push Joe’s growth and expand characterisation for the viewer. Film’s ending also doesn’t let up with that as there is no need for trauma or loved one’s injury/death because we get to a conclusion that is grounded and deserved, even then it takes the occasional left turn.

In a live-action form, the movie would be an interesting, character-driven comedy drama so it’s remarkable how well that is blended together with fantasy and adventure elements in animation. Not a single scene or genre change feels off-putting and the odd side characters feel responsive despite their designed shapes. Many of their voice actors (Tina Fey as 22, Rachel House as Terry etc.) do a splendid job but the biggest thing, on a personal note for me, was the fact that I forgot that Foxx was the voice of Joe; Foxx’ intonation, pitch and talking speed felt crucial for the character. One last big thing to talk about Soul is its music of course, starting with the vibe-y jazz composed by Jon Batiste and also the small-scaled electronic music from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. Reznor and Ross are both unrecognisable and in-tune with the visuals as they’re doing something new for them but oh my, Batiste’s jazz and how animators capture Joe’s hand movements on the piano for it is on another level all together. Those jazz club scenes with ’’live’’ music are pure ecstasy to watch.

Smileys: Screenplay, score, tone, Jamie Foxx, originality

Frowneys: Nothing too bad here

The pizza looked great as well, am I right?


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