Friday, April 12, 2024

Review: “Soul” Has Plenty of Soul, In its Music, Story, Heart, A Rare Piece of Art in this Pandemic Year


A few animated films I thought could get Best Picture nods– “Wall E,” “Inside Out,” now “Soul.”

Playing now on the Disney Plus channel, I missed some press stuff for “Soul” for personal reasons and I’m glad I did. I wasn’t ready for it. But tonight I watched Pete Docter’s creation, and it’s quite brilliant. It’s one of those few contemporary movies that make you feel it was all worth it.

I wrote– erroneously– some months ago that “Soul” wouldn’t have “soul music.” It’s true, it has jazz, beautiful jazz written and performed by Jon Batiste, the great talent from the Stephen Colbert show. There are two scores, really. One is by Batiste, and the other is by the Nine Inch Nails guys, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. The whole thing is screwed up Academy-wise and I don’t know the answer. I do know they made the mistake of putting Curtis Mayfield’s “It’s All Right,” performed by Batiste, over the end credits, thus disqualifying themselves for Best Song. But…it’s the right song. So, who knows?

“Soul” is all about who you are, what you wanted to be, fulfilling your life’s dream. Don’t see it stoned, or your mind will be blown. But it’s not a lot of navel gazing or very preachy. Jamie Foxx is Joe, a jazz pianist who’s teaching middle school band. Just as he gets a chance to play with a jazz legend (Angela Bassett), he has an accident and falls into a pre-death world of gloriously inventive animation. He meets “22,” voiced with great wit and verve by Tina Fey. “22” has never found a purpose, a reason to stay on Earth, so avoids it. Joe, meantime, won’t accept death, so he and “22” find a way to sneak back to Earth, where his loved ones– including his mother (the great Phylicia Rashad)– are waiting to hear his star turn.

I’m not an animation expert, but this production sort of combines the best of Pixar and Disney. My favorite parts were heavenly characters drawn in a kind of neon with Picasso-like figures that were so fluid, I hope they’re in heaven if I ever get there.

Just as he did with “Up” and “Inside Out,” Pete Docter hits all the right notes. Adding Kemp Powers makes perfect sense. The two of them found a rare harmony. They made a classic film that will outlast all of us.

Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

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