Soul – PG – 1 hr 40 min
NO SPOILERS Movie Review
Watched on Disney+ Saturday December 26, 2020
Disney+ – Pierce County, Washington
Ironic that Pixar focused on death themes in 2020. Was this accidental or just the way these two films came about?
As the year comes to a close, it almost seems prophetic in hindsight, but we’ll tackle this more momentarily. First, what’s this movie about?
“Joe Gardner, where have you been?”
Band teacher and aspiring jazz musician, Gardner, finally gets the gig he’s been looking for, only to wind up in The Great Before, on the precipice of death. And thus begins Joe’s journey to return his soul to his body so he can live on earth again.
Not sure why Pixar dealt with death in both their films this year. Onward dealt with the aftermath of a dad who had passed on, his surviving children wanting to spend one last moment with him, and this film pokes the same depressing topic from another angle. Both films take a lighter tone to the subject matter, with Soul using music as the primary motivation of life. It’s not about what we have done in life, it’s what we do every day to live, what we can do — a not so subtle message that depression is in the mind, not in the soul.
Death isn’t a subject that animated movies target often. This one seems more for adults, or older children anyway, hence the rating, than Onward, one of the last two movies we saw in theaters in March 2020 before the pandemic first shut down theaters.
Kara preferred Onward over this one, but I liked this one better. However, she didn’t see all of it undistracted, as we watched part of this on Christmas morning, then went to celebrate Christmas with our children and grandchildren and watched the rest as background. I rewatched again completely today, Saturday 12/26/20. This is why I didn’t include a rating score for Kara below, because she really hasn’t seen the entire movie. I think she might enjoy it more if she watched the last third of the film undisturbed.
(Sidenote: this is the problem with streaming films at home. You are much more prone to distractions than in theaters. Not saying there can’t be distractions in theaters also, but a home environment can have more)
Typical Pixar attention to animation quality and design. Have mentioned in other reviews how much I like Pixar animation, it just has a certain signature quality to it. Their stories are often clever and original. Death has been, pardon the pun, done to death, and yet this story that blends a music teacher’s journey to playing the piano feels more alive than it should.
I was reminded in parts of the live action movie, Heaven Can Wait ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (see: Heavenly Movies – Warren Beatty in Heaven Can Wait). No idea if that formed any sort of inspiration for the filmmakers, but at times I felt like I was seeing an animated version of Warren Beatty wanting to get back into his body. That is a great part of the tension and what maintains viewer interest: can Joe get back to his body?
Joe Pendleton was the name of the main character in Heaven Can Wait. He played the clarinet — badly and was taken from life suddenly in a tunnel biking accident. Joe Gardner in Soul plays piano wonderfully and needs to “watch his step”, but must find the spark of life to be able to return as he mentors Number 22 (interesting number, to say the least). Is this all just creative coincidence?
Anyway, good story, even if it was a copy of sorts of prior stories. In some sense, the best stories have already been told and new, great plots are going to be at least some combinations of past plotlines and characters put together in seemingly fresh ways. I would encourage anybody who has seen Soul and not seen Heaven Can Wait to go back and watch that movie. There are numerous comparisons that can be made about The Great Before, Soul and this movie that made me take away a star because it just wasn’t as inventive as I wanted it to be.
That said, Soul is good fun and well worth seeing. It’s the kind of movie that leaves you feeling good when you’re done watching and who can ever tire of those films? The subject matter is dark, yes, perhaps the reason it earned a PG rating, but the way it’s handled is good-natured.
It’s one of the better films put out in 2020, a year that has been far too much about doom and gloom. It’s nice to escape into this animated world, if only for an hour and a half. Recommended.
Rating (out of 5 stars): ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (Todd)