Soul tackles some fairly adult themes about death, the afterlife, and finding one's soul in this new, spectacular film from Pixar and Disney. With an all-star voice cast, some of the best visuals from a Pixar movie thus far, and one impressive jazz score, Soul is a dynamite hit. This 4K release with HDR is exquisite, as is the Dolby Atmos track that just brightens up the world. There are plenty of great extras as well. Must-Own!
Since 1995, Pixar has been the leading movie studio that consistently churns out top-of-the-line animation, delivers iconic characters, and provides funny, important, and heartbreaking stories while being critically and financially successful. They’re far from flawless as Cars 2, Cars 3, and The Good Dinosaur didn’t exactly stick their landing for either trying to push toy sales or try something different – but for each failed attempt, there are a handful of Pixar movies that completely knock it out of the park. Pixar has a remarkable formula that somehow manages to stay fresh and original, tickling that funny bone and conjuring up ugly cries with almost every film, whether it be Coco, Up, or Wall-E. Their themes and tone can be consumed by adults and kids alike, never playing it down to any age or background. Pixar’s newest film – Soul, is their most ambitious, poignant, and wonderful collage of humor, sadness, and straight-up wackiness that somehow manages to meld together into one of their best films to date.
Soul is directed by Pete Doctor and co-directed by Kemp Powers. The former made Inside Out and Up for Pixar, two very emotional films that tackle some truly sad material, but never-the-less the ins and outs of life growing up, getting older, and more. Their screenplay equally tells a fantastic tale with many genre elements that seamlessly and easily tells a complex story on multiple planes of existence while still having a good sense of humor and sense of wonder of what it’s like in the beyond with some psychedelic animation in tow. Not only that, the film is centered in the African American culture that features a great diverse voice cast and gives a great look inside the cultural hub of a black man living in NYC, pursuing his dream in the Jazz world that brings about the musical and spiritual nature of a human rather than a racial one.
Soul follows Joe Gardner (Jamie Foxx) who makes ends meet as a part-time middle-school band teacher, where he enlightens and inspires the kids about music, jazz, and playing instruments. He’s really wonderful at this job. This particular day, the principal offers Joe a full-time gig, teaching the kids with full salary and benefits, but he also lands an audition with the famous jazz saxophonist Dorothea Williams (Angela Basset) – something he’s been wanting to a part of for many years. He can’t do both. After some good news from Dorothea, Joe’s life almost stands still as he’s so overwhelmed with joy that he seems untouchable. He avoids being hit by cars, slipping on banana peels, being hit by falling debris from skyscrapers until he slips and falls into an uncovered sewer hole, which puts him into a state of consciousness that is neither really living nor dead at the moment.
Joe is then transformed from a tall lanky man into a small greenish-blue blob with eyes and his own eyeglasses on his way up an escalator with other blobs or souls until they’re eaten up by a large white light. Joe has no intention of going out early and manages to escape to the Great Before, an interdimensional plane where brand new souls are helped in picking their personality traits and skills before they are sent to Earth to inhabit a newborn human. Joe is then given a mission by a celestial being that looks like a beautiful 2D Picasso painting named Jerry (Alice Braga and Richard Ayoade) to look after an unborn soul called 22 (voiced by Tina Fey). 22 is rebellious, mischievous, and hasn’t been able to be placed with a human in many many years due to her lack of inspiration to do anything. Joe must help her ignite that fire to send her on that journey to Earth. The caveat is that she has no intention of doing so, but when a mishap occurs, the two are sent back to Earth in a body-swap comedy of hilarious proportions that involved a feline.
This might seem too complex and puzzling, but the writers and filmmakers at Pixar have made this labyrinth of the story very accessible and easy to follow for all ages. There’s nothing preachy or overly done with such difficult subjects like loss and death, but it’s rather told in a very elegant and true manner. There really isn’t a complete villain in the movie either, at least in the usual sense, but rather focuses on life and being inspired by Joe, who wants to live each day to the fullest. It’s a magnificent piece of writing for sure.
The actors do an incredible job with their voice acting which all seems natural, but the music also plays a big character in the film too. And it’s not just to enhance a plot or action sequence or upgrade the emotions, but it rather flows freely through the film and brings on new profound life and existence to the characters themselves. It’s the absolute best soundtrack Pixar has done so far. Additionally, this is one of the best-looking animated films to date, as it takes on many different visual pallets from the serene and peaceful pastel and otherworldly neutral colors of The Great Before to the natural and vibrant landscape of NYC that simply pops off the screen. It’s a magnificent wonder to look at that is awe-inspiring. The use of animated lights through each world and plane is simply phenomenal.
Soul is a one-of-a-kind movie and is that one Pixar film that gets released every decade or so that tops the rest. This is one of the best films of the year and is an important look into some of life and death.
Vital Disc Stats: The Ultra HD Blu-ray
Soul crushes its way to Disney Video with amazing technical specs. This set includes the 4K Disc, two Blu-ray Discs, and the Digital Code. All three discs are housed in a hard, black, plastic case with a cardboard sleeve featuring the artwork of the two main leads in various forms. There is an insert for a digital code as well, along with Disney promos.
Soul elevates itself to 2160p UHD in 4K with enhanced HDR that completely shines from start to finish. This just happens to be the most original and best-looking Pixar film to date, and this 4K Disc has a good upgrade from the already impressive 1080p version with better detail and nuanced color.
From the first scene inside the middle school band room, the HDR element already brings more life into the image with detailed color on the messy chalkboard, the many instruments that range from shiny to used, and even different color palettes from the dank classroom to the on step into the brightly lit hallway - this HDR makes a difference. The amazing and distinguishing colors of different reds inside the jazz club under the numerous lighting conditions are simply delightful as are the many fall-like colors when joe walks around the big city with its bold oranges, browns, and seasonal leaves that occupy the trees. When in the Great Before, the color scheme changes to a more neutral and celestial state of light purples, greens, and blues that looks simply amazing, that comes with a great fantasy like glow that mixes a perfect balance of color that is so visually pleasing, that it transforms to a hypnotic and serene state of being. The crisper colors really do stand out nicely here in all scenes, even the darker sequences that have deep blacks and purples with an excellent blueish-green neon glow for eyeballs.
The detail in this animation is again, the best Pixar has done to date. The added clarity in this 4K presentation is so good that the very small textures in Joe's sweaters to even the background objects in the big city and the individual hairs on the cat can be seen very easily. The simpler animation styles also reveal more detail than at first glance as the animation lines and faint color patterns really do accentuate their movements and detail quite perfectly, as if these 2D style animated characters are in 3D. The skin tones and textures are remarkable as well. Pixar knocked it out of the park with this visual masterpiece, where there are no video issues to speak of.
This 4K release comes with a Dolby Atmos track that is a slight upgrade from the already stunning DTS-HD 7.1 mix on the Blu-ray version. That added height channel experience is really worth it here. The sound effects of the city life and numerous instruments sounding off are incredible and nuanced. Whether it be inside the classroom, the Jazz Club, or even the Great Before, there is a wealth of atmospheric sounds that are robust and loud that create a fully immersive listening journey. The overhead speakers fire up when Joe enters the Great Before with tons of little sounds popping up all over the place, whether it be new souls talking and laughing or one of the Jerrys giving lessons in the background.
When in the city, Joe and 22 escape from a hospital and venture out into the bustling metropolis, where helicopters and sirens are heard overhead as well, and it sounds excellent. The music portion of the film is a character itself with some elegant and truly phenomenal jazz notes that forever feel the soundscape with beauty. This usually brings that amazing low end of bass that always has a wonderful rumble to it, never crossing into the rocky or overbearing territory. The track as a whole is very realistic and natural and full of life and to put a pun on it, soul. There are no audio issues to speak of and there is no required adjustment for volume like in previous Disney releases.
There are about 73 minutes of bonus features included in this set, including some behind the scenes, interviews with the cast and crew, deleted scenes, and a great commentary track with the filmmakers. These are better than the average Pixar and Disney bonus feature that's been coming out on recent releases. There are NO extras on the 4K Disc. There are a few extras located on the Blu-ray Discs with the rest of them getting their own extra disc, making this a three-disc set.
Soul is one of the top Pixar films to date, both on a technical level and a story and character element, where it perfectly blends a masterful story for all ages with some important themes and a truly fantastic jazz score. It's simply marvelous. The 4K with HDR video and the Dolby Atmos track are top-notch, and the bonus features are all worth the time and effort this go-around. MUST-OWN!