Disney's Soul from a Middle School Music Teacher's Perspective
An honest review from someone who can relate.
*** This story may contain spoilers so I would highly recommend watching the movie yourself and making your own opinions before reading mine :)***
Over the past week, there has been a lot of talk about Disney and Pixar's new film Soul. If you're anything like me, that is a Black, male-identifying, middle school general music teacher teaching in New York City, you could see how there would be many opinions. After finishing the movie and making my way to Facebook, I was shocked that I was shocked to see on the teacher groups the various film reviews and discourses over the film itself and how it treated the profession of music education. Now, I'm not one for conflict but I did think that it was worth taking a good hard look at. So without further ado, my thoughts.
One thing to note about this film is what it is not. This film is not a film about music, nor is it a film about music education. The largest piece of pushback that I've heard about this film is in the base that the main character is a middle school band teacher with a group of Jazz students who don't share his passions. The film explores how this character, Mr. Gardner, has yet to lose that passion and still performs. Once Gardner finally gets his big break, right on the verge of settling for the comfort of a full-time teaching position, his life ends abruptly. The irony in the situation is made perfectly clear. This is the driving force for the rest of the film. Gardner wants to get back to his life so that he may finally achieve his goals of performing.
This is where the critiques come in. In my reading of the discourses in various groups, the same call-out comes up. The first being that Disney and Pixar make it seem as though teachers are dissatisfied with the profession or that we do it for stability's sake. This, though true for some, is false for many. There are very few, if any, teachers that do it for the money. The second is that people's innate talents are what makes them good at what they do and that this talent, affinity, or as the film calls it, "spark" is the passion for life that drives a person to be the best in their field and that this "spark" is predetermined before birth. This source of contention creates a cognitive dissonance because of the lack of understanding in the way that the film presents what they call a "spark". The "spark" referenced by the film is the desire for life. The thing that makes one want to be alive. This may be the thing that becomes one's passion but it doesn't have to be.
The final critique is actually one that I can get behind and it has to do with Disney's long history of transformation when telling Black stories. Now, we all know that Disney has been riding in the caboose of the progressive train for a long while and it's understandable from a business perspective however, I'll just say it for all of us: YOU DON'T HAVE TO TRANSFORM EVERY BLACK PERSON IN YOUR FILMS TO TELL A COMPELLING STORY. I mean the track record speaks for itself, with The Princess and The Frog, and now this. There is very little representation for Black youth as it is and removing screentime, turning them into animals, or in this case, spirits doesn't help the narrative that we are more.
All in all, I really enjoyed the film and still think it's worth watching, but I thought I'd share my 2 cents. Let me know what you all thought of the movie and my critiques!