Release Date(s)2020 (March 23, 2021)
Studio(s)Pixar Animation Studios/Walt Disney Studios (Walt Disney Home Entertainment)
- Film/Program Grade: B+
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: B+
- Extras Grade: C+
Joe Gardner (Jamie Foxx) aspires to be a successful jazz musician, much to the disapproval of his mother, though he makes a decent living teaching music at a New York City middle school. But just when an opportunity arises to play piano for jazz legend Dorothea Williams’s touring band, and Joe thinks all his dreams are about to come true, he falls down an open manhole and finds himself on a path to the Great Beyond. Frantic to avoid this fate, he tries to escape and falls into the Great Before, where young fresh souls are given their personalities prior to being sent to Earth. There, he’s mistaken for a counselor—someone whose job it is to help those new souls find their “spark” before being born—and is paired with 22 (Tiny Fey), a soul who’s struggled to find her spark and now has a dim view of life. Can Joe help 22 find her way to Earth at last, or will his obsession with returning to his own life leave them both stuck for good?
Directed and co-written by Pete Docter (Monsters Inc., Up, Inside Out), Soul is yet another charming, funny, and genuinely moving CG animated feature by the team at Pixar Studios. Foxx and Fey are terrific together here, each in roles that allow them to stretch their talents in new directions. The supporting voice cast is engaging and entertaining too, including the likes of Graham Norton, Rachel House, Alice Braga, Richard Ayoade, Phylicia Rashad, Donnell Rawlings, Questlove, June Squibb, and Angela Bassett. And the backgrounds and settings on Earth are warm and engaging, while the Great Beyond and Great Before feature abstract shapes, vibrant colors, and one-line characters that look as if they were drawn by Picasso. Like many of Pixar’s best films, there’s a simple message here—a lesson learned, if you will—and it’s a good one, especially in today’s day and age. And the film’s soundtrack is phenomenal, with Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross (ex Nine Inch Nails) composing the ambient score for the worlds beyond, while Jon Batiste (musical director of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert) provides original jazz numbers for Joe’s world on Earth.
Like all recent Pixar films, Soul’s digital animation was rendered in 2K resolution. (Note that Pixar has tested rendering at native 4K but found that not only is there little visual benefit vs 2K, doing so increases both the processing power and rendering time significantly.) The film was finished at the 2.39:1 theatrical aspect ratio, upscaled, and graded for color in high dynamic range for its release on 4K Ultra HD (only HDR10 is available on the disc). But don’t let the upscaling put you off; this is lovely animation. All of the rich colors and textures of New York City’s streets are on full display—you see it in brickwork, in the wood worktable of Joe’s mother’s tailoring shop, in fabrics, skin tones, and in the gleaming brass of band instruments. Shadows are deep, yet retain detail (the stairwell entrance to The Half Note jazz club is a good example), while the highlights are bolder too. The earthbound footage has a warm look, with the worlds beyond intentionally cooler and more pastel colored. But the animation style uses extensive atmospherics to make all the settings feel alternately more realistic or abstract. All in all, this is a lovely image.
Audio-wise, the 4K disc includes a fine English Dolby Atmos mix that recreates the theatrical sound experience for the home theater environment. It’s not bombastic, but then again it’s not meant to be. Instead, it does exactly what it needs to: It presents the film’s score in outstanding fidelity. Dialogue and sound effects are clear and well positioned. The tonal quality is full, with modest but sufficient bass. The height channels use subtle cues to complement the immersion, and occasionally add a bit of lift, especially during key moments in the Great Beyond, the Great Before, and “the Zone” (as well as the transitions between them). The music uses the surround channels playfully too. Additional audio options include English and Spanish 7.1 Dolby Digital Plus, English 5.1 Dolby Digital, and English and English Descriptive Audio in 2.0 Dolby Digital. Optional subtitles are available in English for the Hearing Impaired and Spanish only.
There are no extras at all on the 4K disc, but Disney and Pixar’s package is a 3-disc set which also includes the 2-disc Blu-ray release of the film. The first of these discs contains the film in 1080p HD and adds the following extras:
- Audio Commentary with Peter Docter, Dana Murray, Kemp Powers
- Not Your Average Joe (HD – 9:45)
- Astral Taffy (HD – 8:12)
- Sneak Previews (HD – for Disney+ and Luca)
The second Blu-ray contains most of the set’s bonus features, as follows:
- Pretty Deep for a Cartoon (HD – 6:29)
- Into the Zone: The Music and Sound of Soul (HD – 8:24)
- Soul, Improvised (6:49)
- Jazz Greats (HD – 2:50)
- Deleted Scenes (HD – 5 scenes with an Introduction by Kristen Lester and Mike Jones – 22:17 in all)
- Trailer – Soul: Born to Be (HD – Global Teaser in English – 1:41)
- Trailer – Soul: Chicken Soup (HD – Global Trailer in Polish – 2:21)
- Trailer – Soul: Alive (HD – International Trailer in Russian – 2:11)
Note that optional subtitles are available for this bonus disc in English for the Hearing Impaired, Castilian, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Quebec French, German, Italian, Korean, Spanish, Norwegian, and Swedish. The extras are good on the whole, far from comprehensive but still worth your time. The audio commentary is insightful, as is the Into the Zone piece on the film’s music. It’s interesting to see glimpses of roads not taken in the deleted scenes as well. You also get a Digital code on a paper insert.
Soul is a genuinely charming and moving CG animated film. In the Pixar canon, it’s closest to Doctor’s own Inside Out in tone and theme, which is certainly no accident. It’s clear that this filmmaker is thinking deeply about life and its meaning, and the great questions about who human beings are deep down; what makes us tick and what our place in the Universe is. But he and his team do this in a way that’s engaging and relatable to anyone, from the freshest souls to the most ancient ones. Disney’s 4K Ultra HD release delivers the film in fine quality, and is recommended for fans.
- Bill Hunt