日期:2021-01-04 18:33


The new film from the director of Up and Inside Out has the aesthetics of a whimsical adventure, but its themes are very raw.


If Disney's animated-movie formula relies on tales of heroes and princesses, of villains destroyed and personal freedom achieved, then Pixar's formula is far more mundane. For decades, the computer-animation studio has made movies that portray transcendent feelings and experiences as the products of ordinary jobs, performed diligently by strange little beings behind the scenes. Monsters, Inc., in 2001, revealed that our fears were created by cuddly, blue-collar creatures. Inside Out, in 2015, personified our emotions as brightly colored sprites pressing buttons and pulling levers. Now, Soul imagines how our personalities are created at a cartoony summer camp, where smiley blobs and squiggles convene to generate human souls.


All three of these movies were directed by Pete Docter, the man who is also behind Up. One of Pixar's foremost auteurs, the filmmaker is enamored of using animation to conjure worlds rooted in abstract metaphor. Soul, which debuts today on Disney+, is his most conceptual film yet, largely set in a realm known as "the Great Before," a cloudy land where human personalities are created and zapped into our bodies upon birth. The ambition of Docter's world building is laudable. And the smaller, human narrative he tries to tell within that universe—about a jazz pianist who finds himself stuck in the Great Before after a near-death experience—is sweet and charming.



Docter has wrestled with "grown-up" themes before and managed to cram them into an easy-to-understand story arc. Up began with the emotional hammer blow of an aging character losing his wife before he embarked on a new adventure. Soul sets an even tougher challenge for itself by apparently killing its lead character within minutes. But Docter finds clever ways to travel between the heavens and Earth, using the odd, nonphysical world Joe finds himself in to teach valuable lessons about finding joy in life even as it disappoints us.


We are all born with dreams, Docter seems to be saying, bubbling with ideas and personalities that are created even before we come into the world, but Joe's story proves that there is more to life than that. Essentially, Docter has made a Pixar film for kids that tries to run at the nature-versus-nurture question and ends up splitting the difference. Compared to Pixar's recent spate of sequels to past hits, Soul is a loftier project—a messy but expansive story worthy of its director's grand ambitions.