‘Soul’ Review: Heart, Humor, and a Whole Lotta Jazz

2020 has been crazy, so there’s something comforting about a Pixar movie around Christmas to end the year.

“Soul” follows a middle school music teacher (voiced by Jamie Foxx) with dreams of being a jazz musician who dies and must work with a young soul (Tina Fey) to return to Earth. Questlove, Phylicia Rashad, Daveed Diggs, and Angela Bassett also star, while Pete Docter directs.

Pixar has been on a middling streak lately, with solid-but-unnecessary sequels like “Finding Dory” and “Monsters University” and a few box office duds like “The Good Dinosaur” and (although through no fault of its own) this year’s “Onward.” “Soul” is a welcome return to Pixar form, full of color, broad humor, and heart.

My friend and I recently watched Seth Rogen’s “The Night Before” and were taken aback by how much its story of friendship and growing up resonated with us. “Soul” is surprisingly deep for a child’s film and even if things never get as blunt and dark as the climax to “Toy Story 3,” the existential questions about what makes life worth living are sure to go over kids’ heads while making their parents stop and think.

Much like “La La Land,” the film’s focus on the world of jazz music lends itself so some fantastic musical moments. The score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross is among the best of the year, and when partnered with “Mank” could land the pair double-Oscar nominations.

The film looks great, with no detail too fine for Pixar to ignore; hair is frizzy, blackboards have chalk dust, and puddles have ripples. It ranks amount the studio’s most beautiful films in recent memory, if not ever, and reminds us why they remain the best name in the game.

Some of the film’s pacing is off (the plot makes excuses to get from set piece to set piece after a while), but the heart and humor keep things going.

“Soul” is one of the better films of 2020, and one of my favorite animated movies of the last few years. Whatever your feelings about Disney releasing it straight-to-streaming, I’m glad families will be able to see this together ASAP, because we could all use some toe-tapping warmth right now.

Critics Rating: 8/10


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