This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
Nihar’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
Why do we exist? What is our purpose on this Earth? What happens to us in the afterlife? Pixar's latest feature tackles some of the weightiest themes that have plagued our mind since childhood. It isn't afraid to venture into metaphysical territory that could alienate children. Granted, features such as Coco have explored the concept of death, and Inside Out posited the necessity of sadness in our lives, but Soul is a different kind of behemoth. Pixar has continued to shatter our expectations on what to expect from animation, and through their vivid, whimsical worlds have built a playful exercise on our streams of consciousness.
Pixar films have often gone to fantastical worlds to flex their gift of animation, but this is the first whose living, breathing city of New York feels incredibly lived in, its moods, its rhythms, its architecture completely realized. There's the noises of the cars, the hustle and bustle of the everyday worker, the bagel shops, the pizza parlors, the subway platforms, and more. It's a clutter of everything that makes this world feel so alive, as normal as it is. New York has never looked as pretty as it does in the Pixar world, and the score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross adds an ethereal, joyful component. It varies between jazz compositions of realism and the abstract, and firmly holds its identity within the Black experience of New York.
There was no greater joy I had in Soul than in the closing minutes of the film. If films such as Inside Out never quite latched onto me, too eager to present its idea, but never fleshing it out, Soul is the opposite. It reminds us of the joy of being alive, to exist in the human world, where there are no boundaries, no limitations, just the pure, simple happiness of living. Whether its playing the piano, eating a slice of pizza, watching the wind blow the leaves away, or letting the waves wash over your feet, there is a great love and admiration for just existing in the film. Its the barbershop giving out good vibes or a compliment from a friend.
Soul also reminds us that Joe is more than the sum of his parts. There's a scene early on the film that has him see all that he has done in his life, only for him to be disappointed by all of it. This exact moment is repeated in the end of the film, except we see him live those moments. He wasn't down or depressed during any of it, but rather doing simple things with a big smile. It could be a very cheesy implication of living life to the fullest, but Soul never simplifies for the sake of pandering (body swap not included), and stays true to its ambitious pedigree. In Joe Gardner, we have such a superbly written protagonist, a undeniably passionate musician who just hasn't got his big break. The way he moves his head, his hands to the rhythm of the music, to the enthusiasm in this voice (in a terrific performance by Jamie Foxx), he seems so convinced in his purpose of Jazz. It's a goal he has since childhood, and one he refuses to let go, despite setbacks and hardships.
Soul ends on a heartbreaking, but optimistic note, one that results in a story that feels fresh and funny, without losing the core identity of Pixar, and more specifically Pete Docter. It's a film for those who never felt like they were good enough, never felt like they were accepted by those around them or by the world who keeps rejecting you. It's a warm hug letting you know that its ok if things haven't worked out. You will keep coming back and will eventually figure it all out, but for now just enjoy the moment.