Pixar really makes groundbreaking animated films look easy. I’m ashamed to say I’ve never seen Onward. Things were so hectic by the time of its release that I guess I somehow wasn’t in the mood for joy. Maybe I’ll watch it before I go to bed. I’d better see it before I visit The Great Beyond.
Taking a daring move even for a company as established as Disney or Pixar, this flick opens with a middle school band rendition of the usual Disney jingle. In other words, badly. In middle school (or most) you have to take Music as an elective, and that means the people with the instruments don’t care, and even if they want the good grade, there’s something missing comparing passion of reward to passion of passion. The teacher Joe Gardner (Jamie Foxx) understands the difference entirely. He gets a notice one day that he’s no longer a part-time teacher and he can now pursue teaching as a living. His reaction is telltale; reluctancy he can’t hide from his superior. This is evident in how little his students care. He doesn’t want to teach instruments, he wants to play them. He then finds out he got an offer from an old student who’s in a band with respected jazz musician Dorothea Williams (Angela Bassett) and they need a piano player. Joe impresses her, primarily because he doesn’t just know how to play the piano, but become it, improvising several notes on the spot. Then when it seems things are looking up…he has to backtrack immensely when an accident has his soul out of his body…and he has to figure out a way home while being chased by strange beings, all named Gerry, who police the ways of tradition. Along the way he meets another soul only going by 22 (Tina Fey) who might be able to help him. She (and only going by she because she prefers using a “middle-aged white woman” voice) and him must then work together when they’re unintentionally paired up so she can find what really makes her want to live, after years of her indifference towards the idea of living.
Something I immediately relate to with Joe is his dreams. I want to live my life like I’m going to really accomplish something. I want to reach for the sky like Woody would say. Why else would I be writing books and auditioning for acting gigs? But being an actor, especially in Canada, and a fiction writer, well…that’s hard. To tell you all the truth, if I had to have a 9 to 5 job, I’d want to be a beta reader and editor for a publishing company, especially one that will let me have my own hours so I can have the flexibility to pursue acting. But I know that is a hard route to get to, and financial securities? Probably not much. Something else I know is if I don’t aim for that, I’ll spend the rest of my life regretting it. That’s what I was thinking about as I was watching Soul and watching Joe go through his journey of realizing the real meaning of life, a story that actually does not spit on the concept of following your dreams adamantly but more like embellishes it. This movie seems to be on everyone’s side, and I love that. It seems to really know something about, well, souls.
Not only that, the movie is entertaining as ever as it balances universes pre and post getting to be brought into a life. The world beyond is cutesy enough but I was still supremely interested in the life Joe was coming back to, and there’s enough of both. I’m in the minority on this one, but the first Wreck-it Ralph I was disappointed in because it took place too long in one setting when I wanted so much more exploration. And the second one, Ralph Breaks The Internet, was a little too much. Soul was what I was looking for more in those movies.
Soul has the makings of a classic everywhere, and I plan on watching it again several times in the coming years. But some things go wrong, and I was actually considering a B+ grade instead for a bit, especially since Pixar almost never disappoints. Not very many Pixar films I’d put in that grade range, especially one that made me feel so touched and listened to. So let’s get the negatives out of the way. One is the movie’s concept of figuring out what you like feels a little clashing of the concepts from Pixar’s Inside Out. That movie had a different premise of how someone becomes who they are, that felt a bit more…developed and believable. I’m not saying the one in this movie is flawed enough to not work. I’d even go so far as to say the two are nicely connected. But, and this is the other thing, Soul seems to be an obvious mishmash of Inside Out and Coco. That’s a powerhouse combination, it’s just it feels like I’ve already seen a fair bit of it.
A flaw is in the script that sadly felt completely escapable is here too. After Joe manages to escape from the staircase to The Great Beyond, we’re told that this is the first time this has happened. Uh, no way. People die every day and I’m sure at least a fifth of them die not ready and wanting to try to do what Joe did. There’s no chance Joe’s the first to do this. Also, a flaw the climax has is Joe selflessly commits the most heroic and astounding act imaginable…and this is a time where I hate not being able to reveal spoilers. But let’s just say I didn’t have the impression he was ready to give up what he was willing to give up. He didn’t even shed any tears.
The act itself is really uplifting however, as is how the movie wraps up. Even if I find Soul similar to Pixar’s other work in premise, I love the concept, I love its exploration of following dreams, I love 22’s cheekiness and Joe’s perseverance, and I love how beautiful it makes…uh, dying, look. Eugh. Bad metaphor. How about, I love how it looks into our fears of us not meeting our goals before it’s time for us to move on, and how we can not only reach for them, but be happy no matter the outcome. That’s much better.