NON-SPOILER REVIEW (see SPOILER review TOMORROW).
With all the hype from HBO Max and Warner Brothers about the release of “Wonder Woman 1984” on Christmas Day, I fear that many might have missed the much better movie released on the same day.
My family watched WW84 Christmas night. It was, well, okay. It was your standard superhero movie, with an over-the-top bad guy and plenty of fight scenes. After the remarkable first movie featuring Gal Godot’s hero, it was kind of a disappointment.
So, the next night we watched Pixar’s “Soul.” Not nearly as much hype. Hey, it’s just another Disney-Pixar flick – haven’t we seen everything that they can offer by now? How good could it be?
I love it when I’m surprised by a movie!
I should have known! With 23 animated features, Pixar has been the one studio that consistently creates excellence. Not that every movie is worthy of five stars (I’m looking at you, “Cars” trilogy), but look at how many excellent movies have come from them? My favorites are “The Incredibles,” “Toy Story 2,” “Up,” “Finding Nemo,” “WALL-E,” “Inside Out,” “Monsters Inc.,” “Ratatouille,” and I could list more.
Ranking right up there with these is “Soul.” Yes, it is one of Pixar’s best.
- Unlike the rest of the movie industry, which often churns out the same old regurgitated stories that are geared to appeal to the least common denominator, Pixar is constantly seeking new stories, mining the beautiful sub-cultures of our human experience. “Soul” offers us a grand appreciation of African American Jazz music and the men and women who play it. John Batiste offers his signature jazz compositions and arrangements to much of the soundtrack.
- Speaking of soundtracks, Pixar’s story takes place in two totally different locales, so it called for two strikingly different types of music. For the “of this earth” scenes in New York City, we hear the jazz stylings of Batiste, but for the “not of this earth” scenes in The Great Before, we hear the ambient electronica of Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross (yes, that Trent Reznor who is the founding songwriter for the industrial rock band Nine Inch Nails, of which Ross is now his partner). Reznor and Ross have been scoring movies and TV for a while now, dating back to The Social Network to this past year’s Watchmen TV series. The two styles of music are perfect, providing the mood for both settings.
- The animation is amazing. Pixar is always outdoing themselves. We watch musicians play their instruments – I was particularly impressed with the saxophonist and the trombonist. Wait. Those are not real people playing real instruments… they just look real because they are so spot-on. The scenery is well done and the people in New York are cartoony but they are very real as well. The shadows and the facial expressions, wow. And, might I add, it’s wonderful to see Black people look and act this authentic in an animated film – from the Jazz club to his mother’s store to the barbershop.
- Did I mention that the animation is amazing? On top of the New York scenes, the “not of this world” scenery and characters are something totally new and inventive (not counting the baby “souls” who are like other cuties we’ve seen). The single-line drawn style that created these characters leads to a fantastic set of scenes where antagonist “Terry” goes to earth to find the missing souls – hiding anywhere that there already are single lines in earthly objects.
- The movie is laugh-out-loud funny. Pixar is always able to make features that appeal to children that are really just as targeted to grown-ups. Both slapstick and sly humor are found throughout.
- The movie isn’t just about a Jazz musician seeking to fulfill what he believes is his purpose, and it isn’t just about life-after-death or life-before-life, either. It is the culmination of all these things into a profound fable that helps us rediscover what it means to be human.