- Emma Simmonds
- 18 December 2020
Jamie Foxx and Tina Fey lead the voice cast in this stunning, marvellously musical animation
An unusual fight for survival spurs along the action in Pixar's 23rd feature, which roots its story in a world many will recognise, as it delivers its most credible depiction of humanity yet. Capturing the transportive quality of music, Soul follows African-American New Yorker Joe Gardner (voiced by Jamie Foxx) a 'Mr Close But No Cigar' middle-school band teacher, who has been trying to make playing jazz his full-time job for decades. Just when he thinks he's finally got his big-break, Joe steps into an open manhole, and emerges as a fuzzy blue creature riding an escalator to The Great Beyond.
Helmed by the double Oscar-winning Pete Docter (Inside Out, Up) and co-director Kemp Powers (the screenwriter of One Night in Miami) – who collaborate on the script with Mike Jones – what transpires is an adventure with shades of A Matter of Life and Death. It sees Joe scramble back down the escalator, before trying to claw his way back to Earth via 'The Great Before', where new souls are prepped for becoming babies.
Masquerading as someone more prestigious, Joe ends up mentoring newbie number 22 (Tina Fey), a naughty little imp who has proven too much of a handful for a variety of the world's finest, including Gandhi and Mother Teresa. Rachel House voices Terry, an afterlife jobsworth convinced that The Great Beyond's count is off, while Richard Ayoade and Alice Braga are counsellors in The Great Before, both called Jerry.
Purely in animation terms, Pixar have outdone themselves. The hustle and bustle of NYC is stunningly rendered, as is the grime of its subway system. There's also real satisfaction in the contrasts between the worlds: the tangibleness of Joe's beloved city and the hazy blues and pinks which characterise the spiritual realm; our protagonist's plump, squeezable cheeks and rich complexion, and the thin Picasso-esque, line drawings that give life to Terry and the Jerrys.
The voice cast is great – from absolute pros Foxx and Fey, to the reliably hilarious House (Hunt for the Wilderpeople) and a formidable Angela Bassett as withering saxophonist Dorothea Williams, whose quartet Joe is fighting so hard to win back his place in. If the climax feels like a bit of a cop-out and the story is too complicated for younger children, Soul packs a real emotional wallop and it's unbelievably easy to get lost in the sheer wonder of it all.
Available to watch on Disney+ from Fri 25 Dec.