Soul: A movie for your own

Joe and Soul in Training 22 take a walk in the Great Before (Disney/Pixar)

Soul is a Disney Pixar film that was released on Disney+ on December 25, 2020.  Directed by Pete Doctor, soon joined by Kemp Powers, it is the first Pixar film to be put down as a Disney+ original film.

The movie is about a man named Joe Gardener, a middle school music teacher who dreams of being a great jazz musician. After years of hard work, he finally gets his big break, but moments before his performance he falls down a manhole and dies, ending up in what is called the Great Beyond. From there, he escapes to the Great Before, which is where young souls gain their personalities before heading off to Earth, and becomes a mentor for Soul-in-training 22. 22 is known to be a difficult personality, and teams up with Joe to try to get Joe home and find 22’s missing spark for her personality.

When the trailer for the movie was released, many people were skeptical about it because it featured the trope of a non-white character being turned into something else, like an animal, or a soul in this case. It’s a common trope in many animated films, The Princess and the Frog being a pretty well known example. But you also have Brother Bear, Spies in Disguise, and Emperor’s New Groove. It dehumanizes people of color in their movies (literally) when it becomes a running trend in animated films and is all you get representation wise. People were happy that Tiana was going to be the first black princess, but she’s a frog for half of the movie.

Doctor said that he didn’t even know about the trope until working on the film. “We were unaware of that [trope] as we started, but we certainly became aware,” he said in an interview from Insider. There a many opinions about the trope that should be discussed. A popular opinion is that the best way to do it is to not do it at all, but I do think that a lot of time is spent evenly with Joe in both his body and his soul. 

“We were unaware of that [trope] as we started, but we certainly became aware,”

Pete Doctor

There is a moment in the film where another Black character is mistaken for Joe, a commonly occurring microaggression in today’s society, which is a small detail that the directors should have caught and gotten rid of. Without spoiling anything, this movie is flawed but still incredible. 

The film teaches an important lesson, like most Disney Pixar films do, about enjoying life your way and not taking it for granted. The first act of the movie went by a bit fast, but it did eventually slow down to a better pace in the second act. The ending is just heart wrenching, as it tackles what it is like for people with anxiety about the future who feel that they will never achieve greatness because they couldn’t learn the same way everyone else can. 

Wire figures of Soul Characters
Image: Disney News

The animation is also great; Earth looks very lived in and bright. All the workers in the Great Before, who were based off of wire statues, are animated beautifully. While the Great Before itself might be seen as a bit bland, along with the younger soul’s designs, I believe that’s the point. Whereas movies about the afterlife show how great it is as a way to say, “Death isn’t bad or scary” (unless it takes place in hell), this is beforelife. It’s meant to say that, “This isn’t life, you should go down to Earth and enjoy it while you can.” While the movie has some flaws, most notably the non-white character being changed into something else trope, I do believe that it is still a very strong Pixar film that is thoroughly enjoyable. 

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