Sparking Life

Soul is a body swap movie; that’s all. Apparently though, between Soul and Freaky, the 2020s represent the genre’s new peak.

Pixar’s innate ability to distill complex discussions down to family-oriented, entertaining animated films is worth boasting about, even in critical circles. It’s like the studio finds the means to expose contemporary animation’s listlessness each time out, now into Soul which explores the meaning of life. It’s pompous on the surface. Under that, genuine purity.

It’s an introspective film about purpose and being. Music too, but less so. Soul is focused on life fulfillment, and how purpose isn’t always what we see. Centered on Joe (Jamie Foxx), a high school band teacher, Soul navigates an afterlife in panic. Tragedy makes Joe assess how he lived, having never reached his own dream. But that’s Soul’s mastery over its theme: life isn’t about self-fulfillment, but how we relate and impact others. The oldest of morals, translated to animation at a time when so many appear to have forgotten the “do unto others” lesson that’s so critical to a functioning society.

Soul navigates an afterlife in panic

There’s a crucial scene in a barbershop, where Joe, his body taken over by an unsettled spirit known as only as 22 (Tina Fey), chats up the owner. The conversation isn’t about jazz though, the usual topic, rather how someone who cuts hair finds their meaning and purpose. Like jazz, it goes beyond music – it’s about discovering others. That name too – 22 – is smart, a catch-22 wherein never having lived life means avoiding crowded cities, sadness, and jerks, but also never tasting pizza or experience others talents.

Looking at Pixar’s greatest works, there’s no masterpiece among them anymore. Some work better than others, certainly, but as a unit, they form a totality. Inside Out capably captured emotional turmoil. Toy Story explored childhood and growing up. While the studio delves into simple commercial ideals with Cars (and its look at ego and not judging people), at their peak with something like Soul, they find means to explore human conditions in digestible, appealing aesthetics.

Film scholars will snobbishly resent the comparison to an Ozu and Tokyo Story, but for a mainstream audience, something like Soul delivers similar themes in a way that non-purists can understand. One doesn’t overtake the other. Tokyo Story maintains its own perfection and depth. But to merely sit down and casually soak in Soul, there’s no mistaking the intellectual genius at work, even when coming from a collaborative, billion dollar corporate entity.

Video

Soul uses a truly beautiful, soft HDR presentation. From a carefully composed contrast, highlights blend flawlessly with the dense black levels. Against a pure black space, stars and a heavenly light hit the two extremes. It’s visual masterwork for this format.

This is all aided by splendid color, whether the natural earth tones or the blue/teal/purples of the souls themselves. High saturation glows from the screen, exemplary stuff, making the deep color work overtime. Strong palettes all display energy and weight, creating a marvelous variety.

Resolute sharpness shows whenever possible. Not the hazier souls – aesthetics and all, obviously – but everywhere else. Fine line work akin to traditional animation suffers zero aliasing. Pixar likely rendered this at full 4K, and that helps. Textural details fill in everything, especially clothing and skin detail.

Audio

Full and rich, the excellent low-end support helps the music and action as needed. Deep jolts are common, plus tight. The purity is special stuff, creating a rumble that accentuates rather than exaggerate. It fits perfectly into the mix, like when traveling through portals. Still firm, but never drawing attention away from the rest.

Likewise, the Atmos track plays nice, keeping the city’s lively ambiance in motion. There’s a great moment when after returning to the body, 22 becomes engulfed by noise. Directionality takes hold, overheads included. While heights factor in infrequently, the other speakers see constant use, filled with voices in every channel. Tracking is awesome too.

Extras

There’s nothing on the 4K disc itself, not even the commentary. That’s on the Blu-ray only, along with a look at Joe’s character that runs almost 10-minutes. That’s followed by a look at the soul world, just over eight minutes.

Another disc inside the case houses the other bonuses, beginning with a featurette titled Pretty Deep for a Cartoon, detailing the film’s themes in about six minutes. It takes eight minutes to explore the sound and music. Soul, Improvised tours Pixar and their methods in the middle of a pandemic. It’s great. Interviews with jazz artists fill three minutes as they explain their methods. Five deleted scenes last 22-minutes, plus there’s an intro from the team.

Soul
  • Video
  • Audio
  • Extras
5

Movie

A marvelous exploration of life and purpose, Soul goes deeper than even Pixar’s usual standards in detailing the afterlife while still presenting a charming front.

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User Review
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The following six screen shots serve as samples for our subscription-exclusive set of 40 full resolution uncompressed 4K screen shots grabbed directly from the UHD: