Soul (2020): Pete Docter’s Latest Attempt at Making You Cry

“Soul” is directed by Pete Docter (Up, Inside Out) alongside first timer for feature-length directing, Kemp Powers. This film stars Jamie Foxx (Ray, The Amazing Spider-Man 2), Tina Fey (30 Rock, Saturday Night Live), Questlove (The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, Late Night with Jimmy Fallon), Phylicia Rashad (The Cosby Show, Creed), Daveed Digs (Snowpiercer, Black-ish), and Angela Bassett (What’s Love Got to Do with It, Black Panther). This film centers around a middle school jazz teacher who often tries to find music gigs. He gets transported out of his body and must find his way back with the assistance of an infant soul.

Like many movies this year including “Scoob!,” “Trolls: World Tour,” “Greenland,” and “Mulan,” “Soul” joins the list of films that were once slated to have a big theatrical debut, but due to COVID-19, that became an impossibility. Therefore, Disney decided to put the film on their own streaming service, much like the just recently mentioned “Mulan.” However, unlike “Mulan,” to watch “Soul,” you did not have to pay an extra fee. You had to be a subscriber, but the one time fee of $29.99 was nonexistent. Yay!

Regardless of “Soul’s” fate, this was on my list of films to anticipate. After all, Pete Docter has directed three Pixar features, all of which by the way have been really good. “Monsters Inc.” puts a clever spin on the way we think about creatures that invade our nightmares. “Up” is a fun adventure with arguably the greatest on-screen dog ever made. “Inside Out” is not only one of my favorite Pixar movies, but it is by far one of the best animated films I have ever watched, and really shows that the studio does not cater to kids, and respects its entire viewer base.

Speaking of Pixar, they’ve yet to have a bad day at the office. Even a movie like “Cars 2,” which many people suggest lacks luster compared to many of Pixar’s other offerings, I would consider fun and thrilling all the way through. To be fair though, I have not seen all of Pixar’s work. I skipped “The Good Dinosaur” in the theater and I have yet to watch it at home. So who knows? Maybe that movie will disappoint me. So, does “Soul” keep up the positive streak Pixar has been hammering home by now?

Ehh… Kinda.

Let me say one thing about “Soul,” where there are positives, they are obvious. This film, much like all of Pixar’s recent work like “Incredibles 2” and “Toy Story 4” is beautifully animated. Even though I watched “Soul” on the small screen, New York looked as stunning as a snowfall on Christmas morning. I really like that Pete Docter decided to do another project where the main characters are not necessarily just humans, but little figments of ourselves. “Inside Out” is one of my favorite films of the past five to six years, and part of why I love that movie so much is because it takes emotions and utilizes them to make you feel emotions. Sort of in the same way, I kind of expected that going into “Soul.” In some ways, my expectations to such a matter were met. In others, not so much. The thing about “Inside Out” is that the movie managed to take characters, who in actuality are just parts of one humanized character, and turned them into something bigger, something bolder. In “Soul,” it kind of puts humans and souls in the same perspective and somewhat equalizes them despite their differences. This movie tries to do something with that, and there are a series of pros that come with the concept’s execution, but as the movie goes on, it becomes less interesting, especially towards the final few minutes.

“Soul” is by no means the worst movie of the year, however it may have the worst ending. I will not spoil anything, but this film does not exactly follow the structure of your traditional animation, and I think in some ways, that’s great. I love when films become experimental. But experiments are about trial and error. I think we’ve hit “error” territory with this vision. In a way, each character’s arch was fulfilled. All the actions lead to inevitable reactions. But I left the film feeling empty. I did not feel happy. I did not feel sad. I left not knowing what exactly to think. The usual thing about films is that they try to build up to an epic and satisfying climax. “Soul” has a climax, thankfully. However, as I watched the film, it did not feel climactic. It felt like we were somewhere in act two a little too long. I do not know why. When I watched “Inside Out,” it kind of felt like sex for your brain. You built up all this information, it’s all clogged in your mind, and when the big moments of the end come, I felt shook, it is a feeling that left me with a series of emotions. “Soul” left me with one question.

“Wait, that’s the movie?”

I felt like we’ve left the story unfinished, when in reality it wasn’t. Nothing really felt big or grand, and while I do not expect all my movies to feel like that, it feels weird to be saying that about a Pixar movie. The studio typically does a good job with scale and reminding you of the importance of its characters. “Soul” does that, but it couldn’t stick the landing.

However, speaking of characters, I admire the chemistry between our two leads. You have the main character, Joe Gardner (Jamie Foxx), who has to deal with his new normal after death. And you also have 22 (Tina Fey), who had a particular normal for centuries, and this movie presents the latest iteration of that normal. One of my favorite scenes of the film are the flashbacks of the past examples of what 22 is going through in the not the great beyond, but the great before, where souls remain before they journey to earth to live out their lives. I thought the duo were cast decently, and they had a couple funny lines here and there. Yes, “Soul” is funny, but I will not say it is as funny as other Pixar flicks including “Toy Story 2,” “Up,” and the incessantly mentioned “Inside Out.”

If anything, “Soul” is a movie that is probably going to be looked over by students. This is partially because it is a family friendly movie revolving around music, so this may be good for music classes of all ages. Also, the way it handles the afterlife (or the bare exposition to the afterlife) provides an intriguing peek at what may happen when we go bye bye. It is stunningly animated, and kind of creative. I wonder how other people are going to view “Soul” as far as the human condition message goes.

This movie is marketed to provide a message to remind people to follow their path, chase their dreams, achieve what they believe is their destiny. And the movie sort of dives into that, but it comes with a little more. And while “Soul” comes with a solid moral of the story, it almost feels inconsistent. Then again, the way this movie structures itself feels nearly inconsistent. At times it works, but if I had to give a percentage, it would not be 100%. Many movies have the neverending question, “What is human?” It is a great theme to dive into and can make for a terrific movie. “Soul,” much like how many of its characters are partial figments of ourselves in a way, has many of the positives of other Pixar films, but its positives do not stand out as much as other examples. The best phrase I can give to describe “Soul” is “partially positive.” “Soul” is emotional, but not “Toy Story 3” emotional. “Soul” is funny, but not “The Incredibles” funny. “Soul” is fun, but not “Ratatouille” fun. “Soul” is deep, but not “Inside Out” deep. Maybe it’s deeper, who knows? But regardless, “Soul” does not handle depth like “Inside Out” handles depth. “Soul” tries to encapsulate all these positive qualities, and it does to a degree, but it cannot do so all the way through. And that is really sad, because this film got me to subscribe to Disney+, and now I may be regretting my purchase. First impressions matter!

In the end, “Soul” may not be soulless, but it is also a far cry from what I expect from Pixar. Maybe my disappointment has to do with too much hype, because it’s the typical cycle. In addition to “Soul” having overwhelmingly positive reviews, with quite a few people I’ve come across suggesting it is a masterpiece, I went into the movie expecting one of the best things ever, only to be let down somewhat. That’s not the first time that’s happened to me with Pixar, because that happened to me with “Coco.” I was expecting an emotional thrill, but I left the film going “Okay, that happened. Next.” Again, this film looks great, even on a small screen where it was not originally meant to be seen, but as we progress through the second half of the film, it becomes progressively less fascinating, even with the whole links to what it means to be human. There’s good morals here, I just wish they were in a better movie. For those of you who have never seen a Siskel & Ebert review, their rating system is simple, thumbs up or thumbs down. If I had to give my thoughts on the animation and tech for this film, it is a definite thumbs up. The story, it depends on what we are talking about, but it is going to get the slightest of a thumbs up as I was entertained and hypnotized for a majority of the film. I’m going to give “Soul” a 7/10.

“Soul” is a positive movie, but as far as Pixar goes, it is not up to par with other films. It might even be my least favorite from the studio. When it comes to Pixar films from this year, I need time to marinate, but I might rather want to watch “Onward.” Just bein’ honest. And I will be fair to Pixar. To have a studio’s possibly worst movie get a 7/10 speaks volumes of its history. Just to be clear, Pixar has released feature films since the mid-1990s, and since then, they would put one or two out almost every year. I hope Pixar steps up from here, but I think they’ve created many great films and developed tons of memorable characters over the years. Here’s hoping they can conceptualize more.

“Soul” is exclusively available on Disney+ for all subscribers. And unlike one of the service’s other exclusives (for a limited time), “Mulan,” “Soul” is available at no extra cost.

Thanks for reading this review! Next week I will be reviewing “Wonder Woman 1984,” which is now in theaters wherever they are open. If your theaters are closed or you don’t feel safe going to a cinema right now, the film is also available on HBO Max to all subscribers for 31 days. I personally have my IMAX tickets ready for Sunday, and I cannot wait to watch the film! Also, at the start of 2021, I will be listing my top 10 BEST movies of 2020 and my top 10 WORST movies of 2020! These countdowns have been a tradition of mine for years, and I am glad to keep it going! Be sure to follow Scene Before either with an email or WordPress account so you can stay tuned for more great content! Also, check out my Facebook page! …If you wanna keep your soul. I want to know, did you see “Soul?” What did you think about it? And what is your LEAST FAVORITE Pixar movie? Worst, not best! Just want to make sure we’re clear! Scene Before is your click to the flicks!

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