- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Pixar’s animated celebration of jazz music and the mysteries surrounding the meaning of life and death moves to the ultra-high definition home theater realm in Soul: Ultimate Collector’s Edition (Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, Rated: PG-13, 2.39:1 aspect ratio, 118 minutes, $44.98).

The philosophical tale centers on Joe Gardner (Jamie Foxx), a frustrated piano player stuck in a job, for financial security, as a New York City middle school band teacher.

After he successfully auditions to play in jazz legend Dorothea Williams’ band, he summarily falls down a manhole and ends up in a coma and on the brink of death.

His soul, unwilling to accept his fate and on an escalator to the Great Beyond sneaks over to the Great Before, a place where counselors mentor unborn souls to help them enter earth.

Joe is mistaken as a counselor and gets paired with 22 (Tina Fey), an irascible soul, music hater and in no mood to find a spark to live a life on earth having even failed inspirations from mentors such as Mother Teresa, Abraham Lincoln and Muhammad Ali.

During Joe’s unwise attempt to forcibly get back to earth, 22 is dragged with him and instead of Joe reentering his body, 22 becomes Joe and the piano player ends up in the body of a fluffy therapy cat sitting on his chest.

Let, the shenanigans begin.

The rich storytelling and visual details of director Peter Docter and his amazing animators’ efforts are as complex as simplistic.

New York City is so real, you can smell the garbage while the ethereal Great Before is a pastel wonderland filled with blue, loosely shaped, Casper-like entities and the two-dimensional counselors, shaped like wire frames and looking like abstract characters that Picasso would have painted.

Ultimately, the underpinning of the story will trump the animation as the movie tasks viewers with the question, is a fulfilled life defined by achieving a purpose or an accumulation of experiences?

“Soul” is a wonderful, family friendly, impeccably animated masterpiece. So what else is new when it comes to Pixar?

4K in action: The high dynamic range enhancements afforded the UHD mastering of the film truly bring it to almost three-dimensional life, which is especially stunning in New York City where Pixar achieves a near unsurpassed realism with its computer animation techniques.

The location settings and objects (from a saxophone to piano, cars, store fronts, veins on a falling helicopter seed) are just so  lifelike while the details of the character design include meticulously textured clothing and hair.

Less real but wildly dynamic is watching a focused Joe playing piano while in the “zone,” a place of swirling purples and blues making for a quick film-stopping moment.

And when not offering the Big Apple’s required realism, we get the Great Before. It’s a fantastical mix of 2D and 3D art styles, colorful line drawings, neon tendrils, spaces between the physical and spiritual, and even enveloping an area for lost souls navigated with a paisley-sailed pirate ship led by the bearded Moonwind.

Watching “Soul” in the 4K format will require multiple replays to appreciate the multitiered brilliance of the Pixar artists.

Best extras: The three-disc set offers an optional commentary track and a selection of six featurettes spread out over the included two Blu-ray discs.

As always, viewers should begin by rewatching the film while listening to the nonstop discussion between a socially distanced director Pete Docter, co-writer/co-director Kemp Powers and producer Dana Murray as they break down the animated masterpiece.

The group offer loads of anecdotes (such as jazz composer Jon Batiste plays so strongly with his fingers that he detunes pianos); deep dives into story themes; casting choices; and some of the technical aspects behind the animation process. The track will not disappoint fans, musicians or philosophers.

Next, the roughly 40 minutes of featurettes has the crew and cast cover the overall creation of Joe Gardner; building the soul world; the deep themes of “Soul”; the music (Atticus Ross and Trent Rezner versus Jon Batiste); creating an animated film during the coronavirus pandemic; and the thoughts about the film by some jazz greats such as Earl McIntyre, Marcus McLaurine and Terri Lyne Carrington.

The main production featurette points out that Pixar actually hired a Cultural Trust of advisers to offer guidance on authenticating the experiences of a Black man living in a modern New York City.

Surprisingly, the surface result is Joe Gardner ends up acting like a human being living in the Bronx with a standard emotional gamut and surviving life’s challenges like all humans do every day.

As an older White guy, apparently I missed the cultural nuances of his existence.

Also, viewers get five deleted scenes in an animated storyboard format explained by either screenwriter Mike Jones or story supervisor Kristen Lester.

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