Soul is, simply put, a really charming movie. This is the kind of Pixar I wish we saw more of in the 2010s, bursting with creativity and less focused on manipulating your heartstrings to make you cry, but instead blending a mix of goofy and serious in ways that make you laugh and think in equal measure.
I think it’s pretty incredible that families everywhere watched this together on Christmas Day, not just because it’s a good movie, but because this movie is…weird (for a Pixar movie, at least). Visually, this might be my favorite thing Pixar has done, with plenty of trippy visuals and 2D-on-3D animation that is unlike anything Pixar has done before, which is a welcome surprise after I complained about Toy Story 4’s technically impressive but uninspiring attempt at realistic animation. Animation is a medium with unique capabilities that sometimes feel underutilized, yet Soul takes advantage of them in a way that would be next-to-impossible to transfer to a live-action movie; it’s a true treat for the eyes.
Story-wise, it’s a mixture of familiar and unfamiliar. Comparisons to Inside Out are inevitable, with both movies literally looking inwards at the human condition and presenting lots of worldbuilding and rules along the way, but Soul manages to find its own DNA in its unique sights and sounds (I love me some Trent Reznor/Atticus Ross scores). This certainly feels like one of, if not the most ‘adult’ movies Pixar has ever made, diving deep into the existentialism of finding your purpose in life while still remaining immensely watchable. Its central theme might be a simple one, sure, but I think it’s unfair to boil the movie down to a single sentence without appreciating how it presents its message, which — guess what? — it does really well
Soul certainly doesn’t exist among the ranks of stone-cold masterpieces like Ratatouille or The Incredibles, as it prioritizes ideas over characters at the expense of a long-lasting emotional impact, but it still nails its main character arc and is probably more emotionally satisfying than most movies released this year. And that’s the thing: if Pixar never again reaches the astounding height of their 2000s glory, that’s okay! As somebody who has probably been too harsh on Pixar recently for making well-made, entertaining, but ultimately uninspiring movies, Soul is sure-fire proof that Pixar not only has some gas left in the tank, but intends on putting it to good use; here’s hoping they continue to do so for the decade to come.