This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
Justin RC’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
Pixar knows how to tug the audiences's heartstrings. Soul is no different, setting us out on the transcendental journey of jazz musician Joe Gardner (Jamie Foxx) as he seeks to return to the world of the living after a tragic accident that cost him his own life. Pete Docter takes portions of previous Pixar efforts such as his previous film, Inside Out, and combines them into something that is both familiar and profound but never prods deep enough to bring the themes home.
The film boasts some of Pixar's finest and most visually creative animation, blending a couple of different styles throughout the runtime. At one point early in the film, it transitions to a barrage of different art styles that set up a surreal otherworldly atmosphere.
The opening fifteen minutes offer great promises, but I was quite disappointed that the film doesn't hold up to its concept's potential. It still has an engaging and well-paced story with the message of living life to its fullest truly resonating with me, especially when I sometimes am a lost soul myself.
The original score from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross and the jazz compositions and arrangements from Jon Batiste are also a highlight and the close second best thing in the film, right behind the animation. The sort of instruments used aren't the usual norms I've heard from a Pixar film. The electronic ambience compliments the unnervingly cold and comfortably calm phantasmagoria elements of the afterlife while the jazz serves as the vital component of life in the film's original soundtrack.
However, I feel starved in terms of the worldbuilding and the rules. What counts as death in the film's universe? What counts as a soul now facing the escalator leading up to the Great Beyond? Because it seems like sudden and natural death are always the case, but what about possessions like the cat? Why is the cat's soul heading towards the Great Beyond in a cutaway gag after Joe accidentally takes over its body? And then later in the film, it seems that the cat's soul returns to its body, but how? Does it get an Earth badge? What is the rule here? How did Joe instantly die after falling down the manhole? It doesn't appear he sustains severe injuries to guarantee that he's dead, because when he and 22 go to the world of the living, Joe doesn't seem that severely damaged to warrant an immediate trip to the afterlife because he can walk. This also makes for the lack of actual stakes in the narrative when the film doesn't show actual consequences. Is getting unconscious an instant gateway to the escalator to the Great Beyond?
Yes, you might say I know I'm asking too much. This is a kids' movie, but with the film tackling these heavy subjects, the simplification of them does hold the writing back from reaching its true potential. At the end, the experience feels like a blanket of comfort with each viewing less effective than the last. It's still a very good film with a fun voice cast. The premise is definitely interesting and something I have a strong interest with, and while the final act is ridden with powerfully cathartic moments that show an optimistic and nostalgic view at life, I can't say it stays with me long after the film.