Disney Pixar’s “Soul” lacks soul

Disney Pixar’s latest movie “Soul”  is, in one word, quite soulless itself. I had high expectations for the new film based on past Disney movies I have enjoyed, but I was extremely let down. The plot was confusing and uninteresting, the animations were subpar, and it had scenes that aren’t kid friendly at all. What I expected to be yet another golden movie based on reviews turned out to be nothing but tarnished silver. It was a forgettable movie, and I won’t be recommending it to any of my friends anytime soon. 

The newest Disney movie entitled “Soul” was released on December 25, 2020, after being postponed several times due to COVID-19. It was ultimately released straight to the new Disney streaming service, Disney+, similar to another Disney movie entitled “Noelle” which was released in 2019. “Soul” was directed by Pete Docter and starred Jamie Foxx as Joe Gardener, a middle school music teacher that winds up in The Great Before, a place that harbors unborn souls. There, he meets (and mentors) co-star Tina Fey, who plays 22, a soul without a spark–the thing souls need in order to complete their Earth Pass and start their life on Earth. “Soul” is the first Disney movie to have an African-American protagonist, and it explores lots of African-American culture–specifically jazz and musical improvisation. 

Although I love the idea of more Disney movies having more African American characters, especially lead ones, this movie didn’t step up to the plate. Upon watching the movie, I became increasingly bored and restless, as the plot wasn’t as captivating as it should’ve been. I found myself continuously checking the time remaining, anxiously waiting for the end. Another issue I found was that I kept getting confused. Some time during the movie, Joe embodied a cat whilst 22 took over his own body. From the perspective of the audience, we could hear Tina Fey’s voice coming from Joe; however, it kept switching between hers and Jamie Foxx’s based on the perspective. Another confusing element was that some people couldn’t hear Joe’s voice coming from the cat- they could only hear  frustrated meows- while others could understand Joe completely. This element of the plot went completely unexplained, arousing questions in my mind. If I got confused during the movie, I could only imagine how the intended audience– young children–would feel. 

Another disappointing aspect of the movie was its subpar animations. During the scenes in The Great Before, the animations consisted of abstract images and almost featureless blobs, which didn’t give justice to Pixar’s usual animation quality. The color palette in The Great Before was also extremely limited, consisting of purples and blues, which limited visual interest. Even though the animations in The Great Before were disappointing, I can’t ignore the quality of the animations when Joe and 22 were in New York. The lighting was spectacular. In one scene in particular when Joe was lost in the zone while playing piano, the background consisted of blue light, which also transferred onto the highlights on Joe’s skin and clothing, an almost unnoticeable detail that is extremely impressive. Another detail that I noticed was the realisticness of the objects in New York. A slice of pizza, a wall, a chair, all these small details looked so realistic that if I didn’t know I was watching an animated movie, I would mistake them for real objects. While the New York animations demonstrated a well-crafted movie, the scenes in The Great Before reminded me of a children’s television show. 

Some of the scenes in this movie definitely weren’t appropriate for children of young ages. At some point in the movie, Joe and 22 wind up in “the zone,” a space between the physical and metaphysical worlds, where people find themselves lost in what they are doing. On the floor of “the zone” however, viewers can find beings called “lost souls” which have forgotten their purpose in life, and are as good as dead. While this concept in itself is inappropriate for children of young ages, it gets even worse, because these “lost souls” would be terrifying for young viewers. They are giant, dark blobs with a small head, tentacles for arms, and a single blue eye. They can be seen muttering to themselves in low, ominous tones. When one discovers Joe and 22, it even starts running at them, waving its tentacles and shouting, trying to capture them. While adults might not even blink an eye at this scene, it is completely inappropriate for the intended audience, and could cause children to cry or even have nightmares. More scenes improper for young viewers include those in which 22 claims she has no purpose and doesn’t deserve to live. These depressed-sounding thoughts could set a wrong example for children, and lead them to think that going around saying those types of things is okay. Although this movie is made by Disney, it doesn’t seem like they kept their young viewers in mind while writing and animating these scenes.

Although I have pointed out several flaws that “Soul” contains, it wouldn’t be right to ignore the beautiful aspects of the movie. As I mentioned before, the animations while Joe was in New York were flawless and so well-animated you could mistake things for being real. Another thing I noticed were the realistic mannerisms of the characters. Going back to a movie like “Toy Story,” where all of the characters were stiff and lifeless, the characters in “Soul” acted extremely realistically, from the way they crossed their arms to the expressions they wore. It is also important that I point out that I really appreciated the messages that “Soul” taught. One of the morals was that you do not have to be somebody big or important to make a difference. Joe was just an average Joe, but he changed 22’s life, which even historical figures like Albert Einstein and Mother Theresa couldn’t do. The other moral I realized was that you need to live every day as if it could be your last. While I didn’t enjoy the movie, I do appreciate these lessons, because they are important for children to learn. 

 When I watched “Soul” for the first time, it reminded me of a couple other movies that were also made by Disney. As soon as Joe entered The Great Before,  I immediately started comparing the characters and scenery to that of the movie “Inside Out.” While the characters inside of Riley’s head in “Inside Out” were simplistic and blob-like in a sense, similar to the unborn souls in “Soul,” they also featured much more detail such as hair and clothing, something “Soul” lacked. As both of the movies were quite similar in style, it didn’t surprise me to learn that they both had the same director, Pete Docter. Another movie “Soul” reminded me of was the movie “Coco,” which features Hispanic culture and characters just as “Soul” features African American culture and characters. Both movies explore what the afterlife, or in Soul’s case, beforelife, could be like. Unsurprisingly, I didn’t necessarily enjoy the movie “Coco” either, for the same main reason I didn’t enjoy “Soul”: the plot was lackluster.

I would recommend this movie for people who liked the movie Coco, as I think the premises are quite similar. For children, I do not recommend this movie, as I am not sure if they are ready for the hard-hitting ideas that the movie proposes such as the meaning of life and if we humans have any purpose, and I’m also not so sure if all children would be able to handle some of the scarier scenes. Overall, I wasn’t angry upon watching the movie, and it wasn’t a complete waste of time, but I don’t think I’ll purposely watch it again anytime soon. I give the movie “Soul” two and a half stars. It wasn’t interesting in my opinion, and I got quite bored during the movie: however, I enjoyed some aspects such as the animations while Joe was in New York and the morals it teaches.