Soul: Pixar’s Most Existential Film

I’m not one of those vocal people who thinks things like “2020 is the year of suffering” because of the media’s scare tactics regarding COVID-19, and their ability to withhold anything legitimately positive. Despite me knowing the actual facts about COVID, it was hard on me as well. Even as someone who’s not active on social media, I am around a number of people who are, and they happen to only focus on one side of the story. So yeah, I’ve broken into tears at least once a week all year. Overly long preface aside, Pixar decided to give us a Christmas present: Soul. I didn’t know what it was about, but I had to see it.

Mild spoilers in this paragraph, if you have no idea what the movie is about. In Soul, a man named Joe Gardner dreams of playing jazz with the big boys—wait, wrong movie—some lady named Dorthea Williams. He manages to land a gig, but dies on the way over to the venue. Now that he’s in purgatory, he’s gotta find a way back into his body. And his only ticket is in a literal wayward soul named Twenty-Two, who wants nothing to do with life.

Boy, this movie is sure… something else. First off, it’s definitely a twist for Disney to have a movie about one of its many, many, MANY deceased characters instead of someone who’s, well, alive. It’s kind of hilarious, actually. In any case, Pixar’s interpretation of the afterworld is more than just a world of never ending happiness where the sun shines both day and night; it’s that usual Pixar sense of imagination. Also, this movie shows just how much more lenient we’ve become with cursing in front of kids. They say the words “hell” and “crap”, which were more than enough to earn you a trip to the former back when I was a kid. Well, Disney was also the first to depict a clergyman and humanity itself in villainous roles in animated media, so… yeah.

Soul has your usual Pixar magic in terms of the storytelling. It knows how to bounce between being hilarious and emotional without feeling inorganic. This one knows how to hammer in the feels, but it gets bizarrely terrifying at times. It’s not outright horror; think along the lines of one of those psychological indie games like Arise: A Simple Story

Like any Disney or Pixar movie, Soul is definitely not new in terms of social commentary. Not to spoil it, but the takeaway is definitely something you’ve seen before, unless you’re literally the target demographic of the movie and have never seen it before. Once again, it’s something that anyone can relate to. Unfortunately, due to the fact that we HAVE to go to work and pay our bills, Soul‘s message will probably be forgotten as easily as the other times the message has been communicated.

The characters are some of the better in Pixar’s filmography. Joe Gardner is an interesting case, not just because he dies, but because he’s the oldest lead protagonist I’ve seen in a Disney animated feature. Given the nature of the movie, his journey is a bit more spiritual than most Disney flicks; definitely keeping up the trend of abandoning the tired “good vs. evil” themes of their past. As you can expect, his father is dead. Big surprise for Disney. But honestly, I feel like this is the first time a Disney parent’s death actually meant something to the plot since Bambi. That’s something at least.

Other than Joe, we have the aforementioned Twenty-Two, who’s the sarcastic and rambunctious type. She and Joe end up learning the same life lesson through each other. Running purgatory is/are a bizarre being named Jerry, along with what serves as the main antagonist: Terry. They’re pretty deadpan, but have some of the better lines in the movie. 

I shouldn’t even bother discussing visuals because Pixar pretty much always nails it. Soul is simply stunning, as good at looking both photorealistic and undeniably cartoony as any Pixar film. The movie does, at least, showcase some of the most abstract and experimental visuals I’ve seen in their entire career. Soul honestly feels like a Pixar short but as a feature film instead. I’d say that they did a great job considering COVID separated the whole team, but this movie was probably in post production since 2018.

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Final Verdict: 9.5/10

Soul is one of the best Pixar movies I’ve ever seen. Everything about it is impeccably executed, and is definitely what the doctor ordered for this year. I recommend Soul if you want a straight-up great movie, especially if you’re a Disney fan.

And P.S.: Disney, can you please do the whole “release movies on Disney+ the same day they would’ve come out in theatres” more often, maybe forever?

Onward Movie Review

The movie poster (that I don't own).

It’s been a hot minute since Disney came up with a new I.P. I didn’t know much about Pixar’s Onward, nor did I have high expectations, but I watched it because it was actually NEW. But hey, trailers for Pixar movies tend to not do the actual film justice. Is it the same case here?

In a fantasy world that’s evolved to the 21st Century, two brothers-  emotionally insecure Ian, and history buff Barley- are given an ancient staff, complete with the instructions for a spell that can bring their deceased father back to life for twenty-four hours. Unfortunately, they do a bad, and dad only comes back as pants and a pair of ugly purple socks. Now they must take Barley’s beat up van on a quest to find the MacGuffin that’ll allow them to recast the spell before dad is lost forever.

The idea of a fantasy world with modern technology isn’t even remotely new, but Pixar pulled it off in a way that felt fresh in its own right. It’s hilarious to see centaurs having to drive cars, and pixies being swole and in biker gangs. But even then, this is probably one of the least interesting Pixar worlds. It’s not really the movie’s fault; this movie has Inside Out and Coco to compete with, and those movies were pretty darn inventive. 

But in terms of narrative, Onward definitely exceeds expectations. There is a lot of great dialogue, and most action scenes make a surprising use of insignificant details peppered throughout the film. For the most part. Ian’s magic staff made me cringe, for it was another case of, “Okay, you can be good at magic now. No other time, though. Sorry, bub.” It does make one “death” later in the movie feel like a heap of shock value given the circumstances.

Of course, Disney and Pixar are still Disney and Pixar. If you’ve seen one, you’ve seen this one. Onward doesn’t have one, but two of those out-of-left-field drama scenes that I always roll my eyes at. I get that it’s character building and crap, but you can only enjoy something so much after seeing it the thousandth time.

The characters are what you’d expect. Ian and Barley are a solid example of the “two-brothers-who-are-at-odds-with-each-other-then-realize-that-they’re-each-other’s-best-friend” trope. Sure, they’re no Edward and Alphonse, or even Mutta and Hibito, but they have some good chemistry with each other given the time restriction of a feature film. Dad is also enjoyable, despite never having a single line of dialogue beyond a cassette tape. Pixar’s prowess makes his mannerisms in such a way to where it’s easy to understand what he’s thinking. 

Surprisingly, the best character ended up being the mom. She’s not an absolute a-hole, nor is she a burden on the main characters. When she finds out about their quest, she goes full Marlin and becomes a freaking bada** in the process of finding them.

The visuals are stellar as always. They always do such a good job with expressions and movement that it’s not even possible to be blown away by Pixar anymore. Because of that, Onward almost feels like a step backwards, visually. Disney in general is all about pushing the envelope, but in their defense, you can only push it so far until it’s just pushed all the way completely. Maybe they were using some [insert advanced 3D modeling mumbo jumbo here] that a pleb like me wouldn’t recognize.

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Final Verdict: 8.5/10

Onward is a great movie, and a great NEW I.P. It’s not the best Pixar movie, but it’s still better than a lot of crap your kids could be consuming. I recommend it for any tier of Disney fan, and for anyone who likes a feel-good story.