A Movie Review
First of all, SPOILER ALERT! You probably already figured that, but just in case you haven’t seen Pixar's Soul yet and want to, you have been warned.
Soul is the latest thoughtful, existential Pixar movie to grace the shelves with the likes of previous frontrunners like Coco, Inside Out, and Up. It centers on middle school band teacher and professional jazz pianist wannabe Joe Gardener. On the day he receives his big break and gets a chance to play with a famous jazz musician, he unexpectantly falls into a manhole in his elation and dies. Some hijinks ensue, and he finds himself in the Great Before as a mentor to a troubled pre-life soul named 22. Let me just say now that this film was ambitious, contemplative, and in my opinion as respectful as it could have been of individual faiths and spiritualities. Not many in the film industry would dream to cross a children’s movie into such controversial and existential waters like life before/after death, the meaning of life, and our purpose. These are, however, precisely the themes Soul deals with in a rather artistic way.
Once again, they have pushed the animated envelope to embrace the hustle and bustle of the city and a beautifully stylistic character design. The Great Before not only instills a sense of serene weightlessness but is in the characters of the Jerry’s and Terry’s reminiscent of artists like Picasso. I enjoyed just getting to take everything in, which was needed as one tries to grapple with the themes presented. And right off the bat, I was as lost in the jazz music as Joe. Absolutely stunning! It honestly defied words for me. It is not something you name, but truly something felt deeply.
One thing I was not entirely sure about was that we did not get much time getting to know Joe Gardener before he dies and ends up in the Great Before. I did feel like the pace was slightly fast. I would have appreciated more time to take in the new world and all that it represents. And before anyone says anything, as I am aware this is more than likely purp oseful. Though we did not spend much time with him beforehand, he received I guess enough characterization early on to know how trapped he feels in a seemingly dead-end job while aspiring to be a professional musician. I have understood the torment of not truly feeling like you are living life to the fullest and trying to juggle your passions with the reality of modern living. However, I did not understand how this would come across to younger audiences, those the movie is geared towards. Children have not yet had the life and growing experiences that produce these questions. It is the adults in the illusioned theater that will feel that familiar sting.
Additionally, I absolutely understand the familiar lament of a too-rare black protagonist being turned into something else other than “human” for the majority of the film. Yes, Joe Gardener is seen mainly as his blobby blue soul, and then his body is taken over by 22, but then again a man in his 40’s (I think) as the central character in a children’s movie was more than ambitious. It was a risk in and of itself. And as a white woman, I realize I do not have an insider’s view of black culture, and thus am more than likely ill equipped to talk about it. However, it seemed there was a genuine attempt to make this the “most unapologetically black Pixar project” yet. The appreciation for jazz, one of the greatest African-American contributions to world culture, the barber and tailor shop, and the numerous references hopefully represents the move away from middle-class, white suburban stories.
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