‘Soul’ Review: Pixar Brings Family Fun & Existential Crisis for Christmas

Imagine you’ve spent your whole life working for a single goal, driving towards your passion with focus and dedication, until one day the opportunity of your lifetime arrives. Then you fall through an open manhole and die. What would you do to get your soul back to the land of the living?

Image courtesy of Disney/Pixar

An Existential Crisis for Christmas

That’s the question asked by Disney & Pixar’s latest film Soul. Jazz pianist and middle school music teacher Joe Gardner (voiced effortlessly by Jamie Fox) finally gets invited to play alongside jazz star saxophonist Dorthea Williams (voiced by Angela Bassett). Then the open manhole thing happens. What follows is a colorful trip through the afterlife, the beforelife, and the heaven/hell that is New York City.

Image courtesy of Disney/Pixar

NYC So Real, It’s Wearing Timbs

Pixar’s dedication to detail shines through in their depiction of New York City. This isn’t the LA soundstage that most sitcoms like to use, this is the living, breathing, stinking, sparkling city that you’ll recognize if you’ve ever lived there. It’s all so carefully captured: from a random busker singing so beautifully on the subway platform that you’d swear he’s finna drop a triple-platinum record to the nausea I still feel when a remember a moment when a character drinks something she found in a cup underneath the subway seats (I gagged when I wrote that…). It’s beauty truly blends and plays well into the film’s ultimate message (which I won’t spoil for you here).

Image courtesy of Disney/Pixar

Music to My Ears

The truly standout parts of Soul are the jazz–arranged by musical royalty Jon Batiste–and the Jerrys–soul counselors in the Great Before. Every time someone lays their hands on an instrument in this film, pure magic flows out. It’s enough to make anyone add some Batiste albums into rotation. The Jerrys and the Great Before were hilarious and a balm to my 2020 ravaged mind–soothing colors and calm voices, what bliss.

“But, Brittany,” I’m sure you’re wondering, “how was Soul?”

Image courtesy of Disney/Pixar

Okay, but Thoughts??

It was okay. Pixar’s known for their strong storytelling, and Soul delivers with a solid plot and message. At times, Joe is hard to root for–he brushes off a student in crisis with a casualness that feels jarring but never revisited–and he spends most of the movie not in his own body. On a meta-level, I couldn’t get past spending another movie following a Black main character who isn’t physically himself. It’s a real drag, Disney, please stop.

*********************SPOILER WARNING***************************

Also–and this is a total spoiler so don’t read this until you’ve seen the movie. You’ve been warned!

It’s hard to watch Tina Fey’s unborn spirit character “drive” Joe’s body. The barbershop scene went off the rails for me by having a white woman in a Black man’s body chopping it up with the crew better than the Black man could. Plus, the Daveed Diggs cameo is so tiny you may not even notice it.

*********************END SPOILER WARNING*************************
Image courtesy of Disney/Pixar

My Final Verdict?

Soul is a cool family movie to watch in the lead up to New Year celebrations and reflections. It’s solid Pixar working their magic with a couple rough spots but nothing to truly sour the experience. But if you’re looking for Black family fun to put you in the Christmas mood, queue up Jingle Jangle instead and save Soul for your New Year’s Eve watch. It did really make me want a dollar slice of pizza though. Them jawns HIT.

6 Sign Spinners out of 10

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