‘Soul’ not worth the hype

February 5, 2021 — by Serena Li and Alan Zu

Although Pixar has improved its animation and quality, their newest movie’s plot is lacking.

Editor’s note: Contains spoilers.

Released on Christmas day on Disney+, the Pixar movie “Soul,” while not a dud, is mediocre at best. Although it immediately attracted attention and scored 95% on Rotten Tomatoes and 8.1 out of 10 on IMDb, those scores are misleadingly high.

“Soul” is about a 46-year-old middle school band teacher named Joe Gardner, who enters the Great Beyond (similar to the afterlife) after an unexpected accident. He attempts to reconnect with the real world through 22, a cynical soul who resisted being born for thousands of years. Notably, this is the first Pixar movie that featured an African American protagonist. 

While the animation and music are superb, its plot is cliche and lacks creativity. 

The movie’s warm-toned color scheme emulates each scene’s mood and keeps the audience’s emotions in sync with what is occurring with the characters. Even the barbershop that belongs to Joe’s mom conveys a warm fuzzy feeling of being at home, the light shining off the surroundings representing her love and care.

The film scoring also merits high marks. The music matches each scene perfectly, and the jazzy vibe exudes the free-spiritedness central to its theme.

For instance, when Joe walks around town, the freer beat of the drums with syncopations and distinct dynamics changes sets the tone of the carefreeness he felt after receiving his offer to play with a renowned jazz performer. When Joe enters the “Zone,” a location that characters go to when they are absorbed in their passions, he improvises on the piano and plays a Spanish scale, which contrasts the “Zone” with the real world by using a foreign musical style. 

Even with the outstanding music and animation, the movie as a whole founders because both the plot and character development are subpar. 

For one, the concept of the soul guardians, who regulate the Great Beyond, feels forced and undevelopment. Terry, an entity who keeps a record of the people entering the Great Beyond, exhibits little to no character growth, despite being the main antagonist. 

His personality remains the same throughout — obsessed with correctly counting the number of people who pass away and showing barely any signs of sympathy. Instead of ending with the Jerrys, who are in charge of growing the new souls like 22, tricking Terry into thinking that the count was correct, it would have been much more heartwarming to see at least a real reconciliation between Terry and the Jerrys.

To make matters worse, the movie’s message was so cliché we could see the ending coming halfway through. The main theme — to take charge of your destiny and enjoy every moment of life — is heartfelt but in the end felt shallow and underdeveloped.

Joe lives under the assumption that he had to achieve his dreams in order to be happy, but through his friendship with 22, he learns what it really means to live — to be more present and appreciate living in the now. He starts trying delicious food, listening to his student play the trombone and admiring and collecting nature’s items, such as leaves. However, the way this was presented was shallow, only relying on a brief moment of realization before the movie rapidly moved on with its plot, giving a feeling of incompleteness.

While “Soul” has some strong points, don’t expect it to sweep you off your feet and have your dancing in the streets.