Director Pete Docter’s latest Pixar effort, Soul, arrives on 4K UHD Blu-ray after its Christmas day debut on streaming service Disney+.
The Production: 4/5
Public school music teacher Joe Gardner (voiced by Jamie Foxx) may have just gotten his first big break in the music industry: the chance to play piano for jazz great Dorothea Williams (voiced by Angela Bassett), despite his mother (Phylicia Rashad) suggesting, in fact insisting, he take the full time teaching position he was just offered by the school district. Before getting the chance to play in front of a live audience, Joe falls down a manhole on his way home from his audition. When he wakes up, he is ascending a staircase towards a bright light, surrounded by other disembodied souls. Realizing he may in fact be dead, he tries running down the staircase, only to fall and find himself in “The Great Before” and mistaken as a mentor for souls who have yet to find their personalities or “spark.” He is then matched with 22 (voiced by Tina Fey), a soul determined to be a troublemaker and lost cause, who has already been mentored by the likes of Mother Teresa, Copernicus, Muhammad Ali, etc. Realizing that Joe is still in a coma and not quite dead yet, 22 agrees to help Joe return to his life on Earth. But complications arise when they arrive on Earth in the wrong bodies.
Pete Doctor has made some of Pixar’s best films dealing with more mature themes, including Up (dealing with loss and facing death), Inside Out (entering puberty and how it effects emotions), and now with Soul we find Joe tacking with finding meaning in his hum-drum life. These are heavy subjects for an animated film, especially one from a studio best known for family favorites like the Toy Story films, Cars, and Finding Nemo, but Doctor finds the right tone, storyline, and characters to explore the subject, something that Cars 3 failed to do. Soul also deals with trying to live up to both your expectations and those of your parents. It is a very touching film, and both the animation and vocal performances really help to drive the story, as does the award-winning score and music compositions by Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross, and Jon Batiste.
3D Rating: NA
Although completed as a 2K digital intermediate, Soul looks absolutely spectacular on 4K UHD Blu-ray, revealing much more detail, color gradations, and deeper blacks than even its Disney+ streaming counterpart (even with only HDR10 on disc). Textures like brickwork, scuffs on the school blackboard, fabrics, even skin imperfections are highly detailed. Colors are vivid without blooming, particularly reds in the Half Note nightclub. Blacks are deep and inky, retaining strong shadow details even in the more darker sequences. The image also offers incredible depth, not just in the New York cityscapes, but also in “The Great Before,” with its vast wide shots.
Soul on 4K UHD Blu-ray includes a lossless Dolby Atmos track (backwards compatible in Dolby TrueHD 7.1) that improves upon the lossy Atmos track on Disney+ (which uses Dolby Digital+) by allowing for a much wider dynamic range. This is not a showy, demo-quality Atmos mix, using the spatial audio technology rather subtly, allowing for sounds to flow more fluidly around the room and utilizing heights for atmospherics such as the acoustics of the Half Note nightclub, the music classroom, the busy New York streets, etc. What is a pleasant surprise is that no volume adjustments were needed to be made to play the track at lower than reference levels.
Special Features: 3/5
As expected with a Disney release, the 4K disc is movie-only, with the extras spread across the two Blu-ray discs included in the set. My one complaint, though, is that all three discs share the same menu design once inserted into the player.
Blu-ray Movie Disc
Not Your Average Joe (1080p; 9:45): The cast and crew discuss Joe’s character, including design, vocal performance, diversity, music, etc.
Astral Taffy (1080p; 8:12): Designing the souls and the world of “The Great Before.”
Audio Commentary: Director Pete Doctor, Producer Dana Murray, and Co-Writer/Co-Director Kem,p Powers discuss making the film, including the early inputs from musicians Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross, and Jon Batiste.
Blu-Ray Extras Disc
Pretty Deep for a Cartoon (1080p; 6:29): A look at the more mature themes of the film.
Into the Zone: The Music and Sound of “Soul” (1080p; 8:24): A look at the score, jazz compositions, and sound design of the film.
“Soul,” Improvised (1080p; 6:49): How Pixar was able to complete the film on schedule despite having to switch to working remotely due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Jazz Greats (1080p; 2:50): Jazz musicians and historians (many of whom either worked on the film or served as consultants) discuss the importance of jazz music in the film.
Deleted Scenes (1080p; 22:17): Story Supervisor Kristen Lester and Screenwriter Mike Jones provide an introduction to five scenes (in mostly storyboard form) that were cut from the film – Mentor Orientation, Clubhouse Forgery, Home Lessons, Living the Dream and Press Shot.
Trailers (1080p): Three trailers for the film are included: Soul: Born to Be – Global Teaser in English (1:41), Soul: Chicken Soup – Global Trailer in Polish (2:21) and Soul: Alive – Global Trailer in Russian (2:11).
Digital Copy: An insert contains a code to redeem a digital copy (in UHD where available) on Movies Anywhere, plus earn points on Disney Movie Insiders if your accounts are linked.
Soul was a fun and touching tale, one of Pixar’s most mature-themed films to date, and definitely aimed at a much older audience. Disney’s presentation of the film on 4K UHD Blu-ray was excellent.
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