MickeyBlog Movie Review: Pixar’s Soul
On Christmas Day, Disney singlehandedly tried to turn 2020 around by providing a blockbuster movie for free to Disney+ subscribers.
For the first time ever, a Pixar movie debuted on a streaming service instead of a movie theater.
The film in question features an exceptional pedigree and the usual splash of Pixar creativity. In fact, that’s one of the running themes in the story.
Here’s my (glowing) review of Soul, which I consider one of the best two Pixar movies of the past decade.
You may not know Pete Docter’s name, but you definitely know his work.
This animation icon currently holds the title of Chief Creator Officer at Pixar. This job carries tremendous stature and industry-wide respect.
Docter earned this position by directing classics like Monsters, Inc., Up, and Inside Out. He’s also a writer for Toy Story, Toy Story 2, and WALL-E.
When Docter works on a Pixar project, movie critics have the highest hopes given his illustrious resume.
The director’s latest film is Soul, which takes a high-level look at what it means to be human in modern society.
How do individuals balance personal satisfaction with basic human needs that must be met to survive?
The Story of Soul
Many previous Pixar pictures have explored philosophical themes.
However, Soul explores the ideas of self and purpose by taking them to their logical extreme.
The story involves a middle school music teacher by day and a wannabe jazz musician by night.
This character, Joe Gardner, finds himself in a classic professional debate when two happy outcomes coincide.
Gardner receives an offer to become a full-time teacher and thereby gain job security for the rest of his soul.
Unfortunately, accepting the job would negate the musician’s chances of living his dream as a touring band member.
Sure enough, the teacher’s former student provides an opportunity for a tryout with a famous singer.
Soul appears to set up a debate about which path Gardner will take, but the whole thing’s a misdirect.
Moments after receiving some good news, the man falls into a manhole and lands on the bridge to the afterlife.
Remarkably, all this happens during the first ten minutes of the movie, and I couldn’t possibly encapsulate much of what happens next.
There’s a…training video? And a cat? And some sort of marshmallow bobblehead who has broken the spirit of saints and philosophers?
Seriously, this story is pretty far out there, and I mean that in the best possible way.
No matter what you expect from Soul when you go in, the film will surprise you over and over again.
My Thoughts about Soul
I could critique Soul by reducing it to basics. After all, some of the story elements are basic.
Joe’s domineering mother disapproves of his music dream. He has a crush on someone but is hesitant to act on those feelings.
A buddy dynamic develops between the musician and his unexpected protégé, a pre-human named 22.
This character lacks a “spark,” the unique emotion that drives souls to travel to Earth.
Recognizable historical figures have unsuccessfully tried to draw the “spark” out of 22 for millennia.
So, Joe appears doomed to fail, which will cause him to give up on life and enter the Great Beyond.
None of this sounds original, which is what makes the movie’s greatness all the more impressive.
Docter mines new life out of tired tropes, as he shows the power that each individual has over others.
We live in an influencer culture now, and Soul explores how much of that sway gets taken for granted.
More importantly, Soul demonstrates the power of kind words and deeds, the importance of treating each person with respect and dignity.
There’s a crazy dude who stands on a street corner and spins a sign for a living.
He’s also somehow the greatest source of afterlife wisdom on the planet. It’s that kind of film.
Throughout Soul, Docter reinforces this premise that we’re more social creatures than we realize.
This message resonates more than ever during the social distancing era.
My Review of Soul
When I think about Soul, a barbershop sequence springs to mind.
Even though the same barber has cut Joe’s hair for years, they’re not really friends. Theirs is a business transaction.
Then, something extraordinary happens, and it causes both individuals to evaluate one another in a new light.
More than anything, Soul is about the importance of connecting, about putting yourself in someone else’s shoes for a time.
By demonstrating such empathy, you grow as a person and provide a more positive impact on society.
The premise doesn’t come across as lecturing, though. It’s far too gentle and subtle for that.
Instead, each character in Soul feels meticulously created, underscoring that everyone has value and dreams.
Joe Gardner is all of us, desperately trying to understand the meaning of life, even as someone who knows the answer dismissively indicates he’s got it all wrong.
I would describe Soul as a Big Ideas movie, but you don’t need to think about it in such philosophical terms.
Instead, you can enjoy the title for what it is, a weird animated buddy movie about a mentor and his protégé.
The jokes all work, especially the one that randomly savages an NBA team.
However, Docter clearly hopes that you’ll think about your “spark” is, what purpose you have in life. It wants you to perform some introspection.
Soul isn’t just a movie. It’s a bit of life coaching that encourages you to aim higher, to try harder.
Soul is like a friend that tells you some uncomfortable truths you may not want to hear.
Have you EVER heard of a movie that would deliver that sort of viewer experience?
The Unique Debut of Soul
I don’t ordinarily discuss movie release patterns in my reviews, but Soul represents an extraordinary situation.
Disney had intended to release Soul in theaters in June of 2020.
That’s a standard release strategy for Pixar titles, which often remain in theaters for the rest of the summer.
Alas, the pandemic blew up that plans, leaving Disney with suboptimal choices. The company pushed Soul into November, but outbreaks remained.
With most movie theaters closed, the company chose to give Disney+ subscribers a spectacular gift, a free Pixar movie for Christmas.
Disney+ had previously streamed Mulan via Premier Access, which charged subscribers an additional $29.99, but Soul is free. And free is better.
However, you will notice some slight differences due to viewing Soul in your home. It’s an undeniably shiny film that demonstrates Pixar’s visual mastery.
Unfortunately, even a 90″ television cannot match the authentic theatrical experience. So, you’ll make some modest concessions by watching at home.
Personally, I only lamented three or four moments from the film as ones I wish I’d watched in a theater.
Wonder Woman 1984, a Warner Bros. title that also debuted on HBO Max on Christmas Day, gave me similar feelings.
Both films would look and sound better in a theater, but I still preferred both titles at home while snuggled under an electric blanket.
My purring lap cat agrees, as my going to movie theaters represents a trouble spot in our relationship.
Your mileage may vary about watching Soul at home.
Alas, unlike Wonder Woman 1984, you don’t have any other options. Soul’s only available in the United States on Disney+.
Overall, Soul embodies the best of Pixar magic, and you owe it to yourself to watch it. Maybe it’ll help you find your “spark” in life.