Movie No. 23: Soul (2020)
**BTW, there WILL be spoilers – you’ve been warned**
Remember earlier this year when y’all forced me to watch all 22 Pixar films?
I wouldn’t blame you if you don’t remember. Two months = two decades in this wretched time warp called 2020.
But yes, earlier this summer Facebook was absolutely AGHAST when they learned that I, a grown man with a job and responsibilities, hadn’t watched a bunch of kids movies from the 2000s. The reviewer in me couldn’t resist the challenge though and in a month’s time I watched and reviewed all things Pixar.
With the release of Soul to Disney+ this past weekend, it was only right that I added it to the Pixar pile, especially since initial feedback was so strong following months of criticism.
You see, the woke among us poked holes in the concept of Soul before it even hit screens (complaining about something you haven’t even seen yet is Think Piece Twitter’s mutant ability, after all). The film revolves around pianist Joe Gardner dying (sorta) before his big break, with his disembodied soul racing back to his body in time for his stage debut. Joe (voiced by Jamie Foxx) meets up with another soul, No. 22 (voiced by Tina Fey), and through Wacky Kid Movie Hijinks, Joe winds up in a cat while 22 ends up with his body. But things work out, everyone learns a lesson, we get a happy ending, yay Pixar.
Critics were quick to throw tomatoes though – why does the black man have to die immediately? Why is yet again a black character reduced to being a goofy animal? Why is a white lady in a black guy’s body?
Look, black actors constantly voicing goofy sidekicks is an overdone trope, I’ll definitely share your annoyance there. But the rest of those complains completely miss the point of the film.
Soul is not specifically a commentary on identity (the characters even clarify that 22 is not “white” and can use whatever voice she wants, even a middle-aged lady’s). Soul is about the journey of finding your purpose – and that’s where the movie excels.
The film has some interesting concepts on the development of personalities, with unborn souls being shaped by being assigned to certain pavilions. I guess my soul spent a lot of time in the Playa Please Pavilion and the We Need to do Better Boardroom. And to the film’s credit, it does a fine job touching on black culture – from the great jazz soundtrack to the touchingly authentic barbershop scene. Everything was nailed perfectly there, down to the barber’s clipper technique. If I needed an animated edge-up, that would be my spot.
Many folks on my timeline have dubbed Soul THE BEST PIXAR MOVIE OF ALL TIME – ehhhh, I’m a fan but it doesn’t break my top five. Even with Joe nearly dying like 80 times in the first 15 minutes of the film – had me feeling like I was watching Final Destination, the Pixar Remix – the movie was much slower-paced than most Pixar films. The main antagonist, a grouchy spirit collector who is neither as scary nor interesting as you’d think, doesn’t add any tension. In fact, most of the side characters are meh besides Joe’s mom, who has a touching moment of reconciliation with her son and even drops off the best line of the movie – “we old!”
I felt that in my spirit. No pun intended.
Pixar’s best stuff often feels like adult movies wrapped in kids’ clothes, and that’s very evident for Soul. Its message will resonate much more strongly with jaded adults than wide-eyed children.
If only we stop writing think pieces long enough to listen.
4 stars out of 5
Toy Story 3
A Bug’s Life
Toy Story 2
Toy Story 4
The Good Dinosaur