If there is a director in feature film animation that I truly admire like no other, it's easily Pete Docter. He is quite simply a master when it comes to making animated films that can truly inspire people like no other and has made films with Pixar that have hilarious humor, emotional drama, and delivers themes like no other animation director can. For those that don't know, his second feature film "Up" is my favorite animated film of all time as it perfectly has everything I truly adore about animation. Every time he makes another new animated film, I'm immediately there. I have always have adored and skill and craft when it comes to making films that are more ambitious as they go along and his fourth feature film "Soul" is his most ambitious and perfectly crafted to date. It also just so happens to be one of Pixar's best films I've ever seen. It's not often that I consider an animated film a masterpiece, but this is one that truly earns its title.
A middle school band teacher in New York City named Joe Gardner (Jamie Foxx) is feeling unsatisfied with his life. He feels stuck in his current job and dreams of being a jazz musician which his mother Libba (Phylicia Rashad) is unhappy about. One day, a former student of his named Curley (Questlove) offers him a chance to audition in a jazz band led by saxophone jazz legend Dorthea Williams (Angela Basset). After making a good first impression, Dorthea offers Joe a chance to perform alongside her at the Half Note Jazz Club that night much to his delight. Though just as things are going his way, Joe falls into a manhole, and his soul is sent to the entrance to the Great Before. Feeling that his life isn't over, Joe escapes the entrance and ends up in the Great Before (now being rebranded as YouSeminar). There he encounters a soul named 22 (Tina Fey) who doesn't want to go to Earth and has been stuck in the YouSeminar for quite some time and the two embark on a journey like no other. And that's all I'm going to say about this film because there is a big surprise awaiting that the trailers don't show and I dare not spoil it here.
It's been quite established that Pixar is an animation studio that can put out animated films like no other. They've made tons of animated masterpieces before and some are more mature than others, but I think this film is one of their most mature and ambitious to date. When the film ended, I was left in awe at what I had just witnessed. If anything, this is a film that firmly establishes what animation can do and the power it can have for storytelling. This is a medium that can bring such powerful and ambitious stories to life like no other and this film is proof that it can go in new directions and be ambitious and mature. I was amazed at how complex and brilliant the storytelling in this film is. If anything, it continues to prove that Pete Docter knows how to make the most amazing stories possible and here he gets as ambitious as he gets. The story ended up being different from what I expected and it goes in a direction that really worked well for me by taking a routine we've seen before in other films and using it in a new and groundbreaking way with a message at the end that could be Pixar's most mature and thought-provoking to date. I've seen Pixar make mature films before with "Ratatouille" and "Wall-E", but I think this film might surpass them all as it was a message that I connected so deeply with and left me in tears by the end. The film also has so much atmosphere with one sequence being so beautiful and groundbreaking that I was left speechless by the end. It's the kind of sequence that really shows the power of animated filmmaking and how it could really go into places like no other is something that I highly applaud. Then there is the animation which I found truly astonishing. We all know that Pixar has been putting out animation that is at the top of its game and this film might simply be the best I've ever seen from them, surpassing the animation from "Coco" which I previously thought was the best computer animation I've ever. The visuals in both words are staggering with New York City being portrayed the best I've ever seen in an animated film. We've seen New York City portrayed in many animated films before this, but I think this is the best I've seen this city portrayed. It was amazing. Though it's the spiritual worlds where souls are born and where they die that I found amazing. Pixar really decided to play around with stylistic animation in these sequences that I think they started to experiment in "Inside Out" and I was floored by how breathtaking it was. This is a film that really shows what the medium of animation is truly capable of. Then there are the characters, which are the most fleshed I've probably seen in a Pixar film. I really could relate to both the characters of Joe Gardner and 22 as they have insecurities and dreams I could find relatable. They go through some truly amazing arcs that by the end feel exceptionally satisfied while having some hilarious chemistry to work off of which makes some sequences truly hilarious to witness. While the film does belong to Joe and 22, the other characters in this film also have a lot to offer including the people in Joe's life, the workers in the YouSeminar all named Jerry, and the counter from the Great Before named Terry. It made the film feel so fulfilling by the end. I also have to praise the score with Jon Batiste making some fun jazz numbers for the New York scenes and Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross making a complicated score for the spiritual scenes. The score from the latter is so rich and complicated it feels like a perfect fit for a film by David Fincher and I highly applaud that Pixar went with them for this film. It really made the film feel so deep.
If I haven't said it before, "Soul" is a masterpiece of an animated film. This is a film where the story, animation, and characters are so richly detailed, complex, mature, and ambitious that I was left amazed by the very end. This film is why I love animation so much and it's a film that I cannot recommend enough. It's a film that must be seen. It really showed me why I love animation so much and I can't wait to see where it goes next.