The book-end to a 2020 in movies for me just so happened to be the first Pixar film to not get a theatrical release. Sounds very 2020-like doesn’t it? Soul is the creative baby of Pixar’s current Chief Creative Officer Pete Doctor (Monsters Inc., Up, Inside Out) and was co-directed by Kemp Powers. Doctor started developing the idea in 2016 after finishing up his work on Inside Out, a movie centered on the way that conflicting emotions interact and display themselves in the life of a human. Soul focuses more on the idea of human personalities, where they come from, and explores the question “What are the really important things in life that are worthy of our limited focus and attention during our time on Earth?”.
WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD PER THE USUAL
Welcome to the You Seminar
Most of the original creative juices in this film are behind the fictional world known as the You Seminar. This is where new souls get their personalities and are mentored by old souls until they find their spark. Once they have found their spark, they then go through the Earth portal and start a life essentially. I found the concept of the You Seminar to be quite interesting. The colors were vibrant and textures seemed slightly blurred, possibly to indicate that the place wasn’t as much a physical place as it was a manifestation of consciousness. The character design of the Jerry’s and Terry was interesting and unique, especially in the scene when Terry was interacting with Paul on Earth.
As you might expect with a concept as imaginative as the You Seminar, there are a lot of questions its existence creates that it simply can’t answer. Does every living creature have a soul and are they all the same type? Or is the You Seminar just for human souls? Judging by the fact that the cat soul seen briefly in one seen is actually shaped like a cat, it would indicate that animals do have souls and they must all have their own individual You Seminar of sorts. If that is the case, then how could a human soul just bounce a cat soul into the great beyond? Like I said, many questions that just can’t be answered.
NYC From the Eyes of Joe Gardner
I think Kemp Powers was an excellent choice to come onto the project to give authenticity to the way NYC African American culture is portrayed. From the way Joe Gardner interacts with his mom, to the barbershop scene, to the type of jazz music being played, the feel is all credit to Kemp Powers and the internal culture trust of black Pixar employees that was created to ensure authenticity of this film.
Joe Gardner is a really easy character to root for. He is a dreamer and a visionist. He longs to make something of himself, a feeling many of us can relate to. The emotional hook of the movie for me involves when Joe gets to take a full look at his life during the piano scene right before he goes into the zone for the last time. He finally realizes that he has spent his entire life laser focused on becoming a successful musician, that he took so many other good things for granted in his life. He realized that his passion is not his purpose, and that tasting success didn’t satisfy a whole life of neglect like he thought it would. I found that message to be quite profound and important for many of us to hear.
The one thing that held Soul back from being an elite-tier Pixar film in my mind is just it’s inability to keep me glued to the screen. Sheer interest in its simplest form is what keep people hooked on a film, and Soul just didn’t quite have that for me. There were some funny parts, but it wasn’t funny enough to have me sitting on pins and needles for the next great joke. The characters had depth, but they weren’t exciting. The NYC setting was cool and authentic, but it wasn’t imaginative or awe-inspiring. The You Seminar on the other hand was quite imaginative, but it felt a bit dull and the pace seemed slower when we were in those scenes.
I have no serious structural qualms with the film, but similar to Onward, it just simply lacked that interest factor that Inside Out or The Incredibles both have that make them elite in my ranking of all the Pixar films. It is certainly beautiful and will probably rake in the accolades for the deep and mature themes that are at the films center. It’d didn’t quite grab me like others have, and that’s ok.
If you want to hear more on Soul, check out our review on the Banter? I Hardly Know Her Podcast!