PG, mainly for complex ideas about the afterlife. The movie centers around death. While death doesn't exactly come across as traumatic, it does bring up a lot of questions, especially for kids. As a Catholic, there was a lot of prefacing and pausing involved, explaining that this is just a movie and someone's idea of what the afterlife would be like. There's a villain, but that villain is pretty tame. PG.
DIRECTORS: Pete Docter and Kemp Powers
I have a feeling I'm going to step in it with this one. One of my big goals this year is to work towards being anti-racist. (But the very nature of doing so is white knighting and stressing that "I'm one of the good ones".) I went into Soul with no expectations outside of being grateful that Disney+ was releasing a major studio release free on Disney+. (Well, not free, but you get what I'm going for.) So when I absolutely loved it, I was shocked to find out that there's some problematic portrayals going on in this movie. It's what happens when you read The Root far too often.
The first element I heard about was the de-Blacking of the main character. The protagonist, a Black male named Joe, may be fitting inside the comfort zone of a lot of white audiences. He's a jazz guy. That's apparently one of the acceptable versions of Black men that white America will accept. Okay, but he's also a really good dude. He's passionate about music and he encourages students to learn, despite worrying about being cool. From moment one, he's likable. But the first thing that happens to him is that he becomes a little blue guy. When Joe dies, he spends the afterlife as a mostly blue soul. He maintains some of his physical characteristics, but he otherwise is stripped of his cultural identity. In fact, I think he's mistaken for a white man on Earth when he slips through the cracks of the afterlife. (I'm genuinely shocked more people in this version of the afterlife haven't tried what Joe tried.)
So I get that element. I'm glad that Disney and Pixar kept a lot of the plot secret within the trailers because Joe's physical form comes back into play for a lot of the film. But then I read on io9, The Root's sister site, that perhaps Soul is the first Black movie made for white audiences. Well, I can't agree on that. I'm the unfortunate owner of Green Book, mainly because it wasn't available for rent before the Academy Awards. I'm not sure exactly what that means, but I do feel like I should be looking at myself harder because I absolutely dug Soul. The takeaway of all this is that I'm probably wrong, but I still have to do some more introspection to figure out why I'm wrong.
But the thing that really sold Soul to me was the obsession with passion. There's a really complex relationship between purpose and passion in this movie and I kinda feel like I should watch it again so I can pick it apart. But Joe is such a compelling individual because he is absolutely absolutely ABSOLUTELY attached to his music. There's an early Twilight Zone episode where the main guy tricks Death into giving him more time on Earth under the guise that there's a passion project of his that needs completing. But that was all a ruse. While Joe likes his life, despite its failures and disappointments, there's this place he gets to --the Zone --that calls him time and again. He's about to land the great white whale when he dies. It's not a validity about the nature of life as a whole. He simply wanted to have that great moment for the rest of his life and he was denied that. It's pitiable and relatable.
And it is that moment that allows him to connect to 22. 22 completely lacks passion. She prides herself on thinking that everything is lame. This is where I jump on board the story as a high school teacher. Joe's a high school teacher who teaches his passion. I'm a high school teacher who nerds out on books and writing. I get the character. So when Joe shows 22 what his life is like, warts and all, and she gets what passion is all about, that's where I'm just agog. I know that it might be uncool to love Soul and now I kind of get that it might be problematic, but the message is so beautiful. There's something great there and anything problematic, while it should have been avoided, was unintentional. Joe is such a great protagonist. He's SUCH a great protagonist. He's not the best guy in the world, but he's inspirational in his own way. And it is from someone else's eyes that he discovers the greatness that Earth has to offer.
Music becomes something bigger than just noise in this movie. There's a scene that is mostly played for a laugh, but I completely relate to. There is nothing more vulnerable than sharing the great things in life with someone else. There's a scene where 22 experiences pizza for the first time through Joe and it is so heartwarming and hilarious at the same time. I love that 22 wants to hate the pizza. That's a moment that I think happens far too often. But the fact that 22 starts pocketing the little things in life that Joe completely ignores is almost a better story about our passions in life. Yeah, Joe sees the passion of playing the piano and playing the piano well, but there's this stain on that whole passion because it is something that he always has to work towards. Yeah, 22 is kind of a butt, but 22 is necessary to notice the little things in life.
I adored this movie. I'm somewhat apologetic for it because I'm starting to get why it can really bother people. There's always this push to be better as people and I'm going to celebrate when we get it right. But Soul, when it is focusing on the important elements of storytelling, really soars. I don't think I've had such a happy surprise for a while and I loved-loved-loved it.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.