Pixar’s latest work is an extraordinary reflection on what we really mean when we talk about “living”
The premiere of “Soul” wasn’t without controversy, primarily given that it’s the first Pixar production to premiere on the Disney+ platform without the standard precursory release in theaters. As such, and although the live version of “Mulan” already took a similar path (having seen the result, there was no major drama), the decision left some audiences with a bad taste in their mouths as Pixar has always been a sure-fire bet to draw in theatergoers, with public flocking to fill theaters. That, and the fact that Pixar productions are designed to be seen on the big screen. Once you have seen it, the feeling of regret for not having enjoyed it in a cinema only grows: “Soul” is one of the company’s finest productions as well as one of the cream of the crop among animated features in recent years, a visual and conceptual performance so packed with details, nuances and expressive horizons that it deserves to be watched, re-watched, and then watched again before you’ll really get to enjoy it in all its dimensions. It is, like the great works of Pixar, both a story and an experience as it uses animation and its potential to reflect on our dilemmas and emotions, on the aspects of life we find difficult to look in the eye and speak aloud. You end up more aware of what surrounds you, more capable of understanding others and yourself, and that’s exactly what any masterpiece has the capability to deliver. They open a window to the world that will change how you view life from here on in.
“Soul” tells the story of Joe, a music teacher who finally gets the chance of a lifetime to fulfill his great aspiration: to play the piano in a jazz band. But on the day of his immense professional leap of faith, he’s involved in a near-fatal accident and his soul, unable to assume that he will never see his dream come true, ends up in a way station desperately trying to return to earthly life and to fulfill his dream. To achieve this, he establishes an extraordinary alliance with his soul, which without its assigned earthly embodiment and as opposed to Joe, has no intention of returning to live in our world as it fails to grasp how it would fit in there. Filled with delightful references to aesthetic milestones and narrative molds (among the latter, body swapping movies, heavenly comedies who pick up the baton from titles such as “Heaven Can Wait” and Pixar’s own universe, to name just a few examples, “Soul” is a journey through countless issues and concepts with an honesty that’ll make your head spin.
Rarely do we get the opportunity to see a film that questions life and death, priorities and resignations, and what we settle for with such awareness. “Soul” questions what we’re really referring to when we talk about “living”. And it does so with that flagship and irresistible in-house brand of humor (the running gag about the cat and how those around him perceive him when he starts talking) and an extraordinary soundtrack (what a great idea, to entrust it to Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross). This movie will have you laughing out loud and crying in equal doses and in harmony with how they fuse styles and symbols. One of the open debates as a result of the film is whether the reflections are suitable for kids. It’s true that it doesn’t make it easy for children (even though the same or more could be said of “Inside Out”) but it’s also true that it deals with issues that concern kids. It may not be targeted directly at younger audiences, but it certainly doesn’t exclude them. Especially because watching this movie in the company of your children is the ideal intro to a discussion on issues that we’re not used to seeing being dealt with on screen in such a head on manner.