Soul: Another Flawed Disney Movie

Pixar’s Latest Disney Animation Film

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Pixar’s latest film Soul is yet another reminder of the vast changes and lifestyle shifts in 2020. Streaming exclusively on Disney+ (as theaters are closed), it earned a 96% on Rotten Tomatoes and made history as the studio’s first movie with a Black lead, voiced by Jamie Foxx. The film follows Joe Gardner, a Black middle-school band teacher in New York City whose long-term aspiration is to be a jazz musician. On the day of his big break, given a chance to play with his musical idol, he falls into a manhole and gets stuck in a complex state, paralleling the afterlife. His dreams take a startling halt as we follow Joe on his journey to evaluate his choices, purpose, and passions.

As it was a starkly different and more mature approach to a “children’s” animated film, I was inclined to watch. Watching it with my sister a couple of days after Christmas was enjoyable and resulted in high regards from both of us. Watching for entertainment likely resulted in my praise of the movie, however, my opinions changed when rewatching it for critique and insight.

As there are many shortcomings in the film when further analyzing it, I understand why it came under backlash and controversy for handling issues regarding race.

In many facets, it seems as though the movie was promoted as being a black animated children’s film in a year, largely encouraging change. Moreover, the direction of the film is seemingly intended to tread lightly for white audiences to enjoy. The main plot points revolved around Joe trying to find himself and understand his purpose through introspection.

Doing that without him being a green blob probably could’ve been possible.

As a Pixar/Disney film, the light and playful tone of the movie is understandable. However, because the subject matter is heavier and more thought-provoking, having the target audience be children is paradoxical and is where most complications arise.

Another flaw of the film parallels the BIPOC animation archetype seen in other Disney titles such as The Emperor’s New Groove (2000), The Princess and the Frog (2009), and Spies in Disguise (2019). Again, even though these movies are for kids, there is a level of awareness when characters turn into other things. But, the fact that there is a multitude of black animated children’s films continuously using the same plot point is troubling. In the Disney princess movie The Princess and the Frog, Tiana is on-screen for approximately 40 minutes of the film, 17 of them spent as a human and 23 as a frog. Eleven years later and Joe Gardner dies after the first ten minutes of the film. And when finally returning back to Earth, his body is inhabited by another soul voiced by Tina Fey, while Gardner is a cat.

As black animated films for children are at a minimum, the quality and caution taken by producers and directors decrease as audiences can just “take what they’re getting” because there really isn’t a surplus.

While Soul does have its failings, I believe that there were many positive intentions for Pixar’s first Black-led feature film with great regard to the character’s physical features and traits, detail in scenery, music, and culture. Nevertheless, with deeper exploration the film sparks more complex takeaways.