Soul (2020, Disney+)
Dir: Pete Docter & Kemp Powers
What high concept story has Pixar gone with this time?
Just as his life is taking an upward turn, an aspiring jazz musician’s body and soul get separated when he falls into an uncovered manhole. Via an abstract transition, he ends up existing as a theoretical concept in a hypothetical construct, where he meets 22 who hasn’t yet been convinced to go to Earth.
Who provides the voices of these characters?
Jamie Foxx and Tina Fey voice Joe and 22. Some people have made an interesting point, that a plot device in the film does lead to some racially questionable voice casting for a while, though I think it’s not an egregious oversight or insensitivity, it’s a consequence of a twist to the story, not out of thoughtless casting. The leads are excellent in their roles, especially as you know that Foxx is a musician and that 22 states they’ve got Fey’s voice to be ‘annoying’, especially when featured in a series of cutaways with all the famous historical figures 22’s infuriated in the past, though primarily Fey just exudes all the wit and expression at which she excels and made her a clear choice for the role. The smaller voice parts are all great too, including the unmistakable voice of Richard Ayoade, an ensemble with a brilliant mix of accents and even languages, which adds to the concept beautifully.
Where is Joe meant to be?
The ‘hypothetical construct in which Joe finds himself is a bit less specific than saying it’s trying to depict something like purgatory, heaven, or even ‘H E double hockey sticks’. Brilliantly, this place is a fully free creative space for Pixar, where they can set their own rules, succinctly set up all the important concepts, and play, free of human or physical limitations. This leads to some abstract imagery, odd ideas, and weirdness that I love, as it makes full use of the abilities of animation. Much of the rest of the film takes place in New York City, which is beautifully recreated with a level of realism that we’ve come to take for granted from Pixar.
When was Soul released?
The film premiered on Disney+ in most places on December 25th last year, timed to maximise on families in need of something to watch together while likely stuck at home in lockdown. It was also available theatrically in a few markets where Disney+ isn’t (yet) available, and it did quite well in those places, reportedly taking $135 at the box office, which nearly covers the production cost, so you can imagine it would have been a success for Disney if it’d had a full theatrical release worldwide.
Why did this go straight to Disney+ then?
Disney not holding on to this for a theatrical release and just popping straight on to Disney+ with no additional fee fascinates me, especially as they’ve now confirmed that will also be their release strategy for the next Pixar film ‘Luca’ on June 18th. It made me think that they must have seen a good enough return on their investment from that decision for them to do it again. Research firm Screen Engine reported that 13% of viewers had subscribed to Disney+ in order to watch the film, and that Soul was one of the most-watched straight-to-streaming titles of the year, just behind Hamilton and fellow December 25th release ‘Wonder Woman 1984’ (which I’ll review in a few weeks). If you do some simple (and rounded down) maths, that means that from a month’s subscription fees, Disney may have gained more than $50million from adding Soul to their streaming service, an amount that they’d then gain month after month if those new subscribers don’t cancel. Now it starts to make sense.
How is it doing with Awards?
For Best Animated Feature awards it’s very close to a clean sweep so far, a trend that I don’t see ending with the BAFTAs this weekend nor the Academy Awards later in the month. It’s also nominated for Best Score and Best Sound at both, a strong contender as it’s brilliant in both aspects, though I think they’re less easy wins.