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George At 

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Pixar has produced some of the most emotionally powerful films in recent memory.

“Coco” cut to your heart with its story of family and aging. “Up” packed more tears in its first ten minutes than many two hour dramas.

So why is SOUL so emotionally hollow?

Visually stunning with incredible detail that’s a feast for your eyes, the film plunks you down in New York City, where we meet temp middle school music teacher Joe Gardner (well voiced by Jamie Foxx). He’s about to settle for a full time job at the school, much to the delight of his Mom, but at the cost of his gigs as a jazz pianist.

When an opportunity to play at a club with a jazz hero legend (Angela Bassett) falls into his lap, Joe nails the audition. In one of the best scenes in the film, we watch the world around him fade away and the music fill his soul, transporting him to another world as he plays. When he snaps out of it, he’s got the gig.

As Joe runs from the club in sheer joy, he falls down an open manhole cover and we fall with him into a land of in-between called the Great Beyond and the Great Before. Not quite death, but that stereotypical waiting room with an escalator to a bright light that we’ve seen so many times, in much better films like “Heaven Can Wait”.

When I saw the escalator into a bright starfield, I started to have my doubts about the film. Really Pixar? That’s the most creative vision of the afterlife you could use?

As Joe pushes back and wants to go back to his real life at one of its best moments, he learns that he must mentor a young child-like soul named 22, whose rather boringly voiced by Tina Fey, who I like a lot but feels an odd choice for this role.

The film then rambles off into a long middle section in which there is body switching, an accountant like boss who is hot on the heels of Joe and 22 as they escape back to Earth…. honestly, it was all a bit boring and routine from these filmmakers.

Writer/Director Pete Docter wrote “Up”, “Wall*E” and “Inside Out”, all much better films.

Many of the supporting characters in the other realm are undefined, but the NYC scenes are much better.

There are lessons to be learned, but for the first time in a Pixar film, I felt like there were less than subtle. “Coco” was brilliant both visually and emotionally and the lessons hit your heart first, here they just seem to land with less finesse.

All the Jazz music scenes are transporting & excellent and anytime the camera was soaring through the streets of a modern New York, it was beautiful to watch.

But if a film is called SOUL, shouldn’t it also have a heart?

I’ll give it a very disappointing C.

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