Soul: Pixar’s Most Existential Movie – Disney+ Review

Pixar continues to show that they can make a great movie.

SUMMARY (Spoiler-Free)

Joe Gardner (Jamie Foxx) is a middle school music teacher who has long dreamed of being a Jazz musician. He gets a call from a former student, Curly (Questlove), who informs him of an opening in the band of Jazz legend Dorothea Williams (Angela Bassett). Joe manages to nail the audition and gets a chance to play piano with her, only to immediately walk into an open manhole cover. Joe finds himself in the “Great Beyond,” but tries to escape so that he can play the show. He accidentally ends up in the “Great Before,” where souls are prepared to be sent to Earth. Joe poses as an instructor to fool the soul counselors (Richard Ayoade, Alice Braga, Wes Studi, Fortune Feimster and Zenobia Shroff) and gets assigned to help “22,” (Tina Fey) a soul that has remained in the Great Before for a long time due to her cynicism. Joe realizes that if he can convince 22 to go to Earth, he can potentially use that as a way back to his body and make it to the show. They are helped by the spiritualist Moonwind (Graham Norton) and opposed by Terry (Rachel House), the soul counter.

Apparently you still need glasses in the before-life.

END SUMMARY

I’ll admit that when Disney announced they were going to put this on Disney+ for free on Christmas, my first thought was that it must not be very good. After all, I think that putting it on streaming at the same time as theaters makes it ineligible for an Oscar, something Pixar collects almost every year they’re eligible. Hell, the category of “Best Animated Film” was arguably created because of Pixar and Dreamworks putting out films too good for the Academy to ignore. While it’s possible that they changed the eligibility rules or that Disney did something to circumvent them here, it still led me to think that the film was a dud. I was completely and utterly wrong.

In my defense, I didn’t know Angela Bassett was in it.

I don’t think that this is Pixar’s best movie, but I would not fight someone who said it was. This film is ambitious beyond almost anything the company has tried before. While all of the good Pixar films have some message behind it, this one probably hits people on the deepest level. I honestly don’t want to spoil it at all because it comes together so well that it really is more of an experience than a moral. It almost feels like a surprise until you realize the whole movie has been set up perfectly so that it comes to this point naturally. It really is the message we need in 2020, too. Just see it for yourself.

Also, if you have a deep passion, you’ll find some moments of this film amazing.

The other thing that surprised me is how many of the jokes in this film are just a step above what I usually expect from Pixar. Not that there movies don’t have good laughs, but they’re usually kid-friendly jokes or something that is just mildly amusing. Sure, sometimes you have some jokes like the Gum Jingle from Inside Out which is just a perfect encapsulation of something funny and frustrating about human existence, but usually it’s just that the Piggy Bank doesn’t know who Picasso is. This movie, though, had a number of gags that just made me laugh out loud. I had to pause the movie because of a well-timed line about Tina Fey messing with the Knicks. The fact that the film is talking about a mature topic seemed to allow for some more mature jokes and I appreciate that. There are still jokes for the kids, obviously. 

It’s not that I have anything against the Knicks, but it’s funny to watch them fail.

The voice acting and the animation are as good as you would expect. The style of the afterlife, or the beforelife as it were, is very creative and done in such a way that you likely won’t be offended no matter what your religious beliefs are. They also do a great job of intertwining the mind and spirituality, particularly in the concept of “the zone,” the place that you can reach that feels beyond yourself when you are focused on something you are passionate about.

These designs are just awesome.

Overall, this is a movie that deserves an audience. It’s a great work by a great team. 

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

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The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part – Everything’s Still Awesome (Spoiler-Free)

The Lego Movie, the movie that should have been crap but instead was a masterful meta-commentary, got a sequel which should have been crap, but instead was a masterful meta-commentary. I wonder if they actually help sales.

SUMMARY (Spoiler-Free)

It’s been five years since the events of “Taco Tuesday” depicted in the first movie. Duplo/Mini-Doll aliens from the Systar System have repeatedly invaded and destroyed Bricksburg, occasionally taking people and things away with them. In response, the citizens now live in “Apocalypseburg,” a Mad Max-esque desert wasteland. Emmet (Chris Pratt) is the only person who has maintained a positive attitude about their circumstances, something that annoys Wyldstyle/Lucy (Elizabeth Banks), who wants Emmet to be more gritty and dark. Emmet, however, is troubled by a dream of “Ourmomageddon,” which has all of the Lego citizens sucked into a void.

Lego2 - 2Apocalypseburg.jpg
Apocalypseburg does have some solid architecture going on.

One day, the town is attacked by the General Sweet Mayhem (Stephanie Beatriz), who abducts Lucy, Metalbeard (Nick Offerman), Batman (Will Forte), Benny the Spaceman (Charlie Day), and Princess Unikitty (Alison Brie) and takes them to the Systar System to meet the ruler of Systar, Queen Whatevra Wa-Nabi (Tiffany Haddish). Emmet takes off to rescue them, with the help of Rex Dangervest, a raptor-training space cowboy archeologist who has chiseled features under his baby fat (Also Chris Pratt).

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Saying “Galaxy Guarding” would be too much, clearly.

Also, the whole thing is actually a metaphor for the imagination of some kids.

END SUMMARY

So, up front, you have to see the first movie for this one to really work well. This movie goes straight into the meta-narrative that was sort of the big “twist” of the last movie: Everything that’s happening is both part of the narrative (i.e. the Lego World) and also a representation of the meta-narrative (i.e. what’s happening in the Real World). Stuff that happens in each one actually impacts the other, however, which almost makes this a pataphysical movie… something that is really unbelievably complex for a children’s film and impressively done so well that this movie is actually really easy to follow.

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The Queen, Whatevra Wa-Nabi is pretty straightforward, admittedly.

Unlike the last movie where the revelation is pretty late, this movie makes it pretty explicit up front that the “Systar System” is a representation of Finn’s (Jadon Sand) sister, Bianca (Brooklynn Prince). In fact, if you don’t get that pretty quickly, I’d actually say that the first few scenes don’t really make sense. For example, in the opening battle against the Duplos, the Duplo monsters respond to being shot with lasers with “okay, I eat lasers” and to being hit with batarangs with “you missed.” Anyone who has ever tried to play an imaginary game with a small child will immediately recognize this interaction. What’s great is that you could analyze almost every scene from both the normal and meta levels and both work perfectly. I’m not sure how Lord and Miller keep doing it, but I’m damned glad they are.

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These guys do good work. Weird, good work.

The messages of the movie, and yes there are several, similarly work on a bunch of levels, both as the lessons learned by the characters and also the lessons learned by the kids through the characters. Everything is a pretty wholesome moral, ranging from the value of family to the nature of maturity to the fact that it’s easier to be a judgmental dick than it is to genuinely keep opening yourself up to people and hope for better. No matter who you are, there’s something to get out of this movie.

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Sweet Mayhem provides great commentary on gender roles in film.

The music is just as fun as the last movie, particularly the movie’s signature song “Catchy Song” which is such an earworm while also being a song about how the song is an earworm. I also would give credit to all of Tiffany Haddish’s songs, which are hilarious and awesome, as well as Lonely Island’s song with Beck and Robyn.

Last, I have to complement how well the movie handles references, much like its predecessor. Unlike the last one, where most of the characters that pop up are just there because Finn’s dad (Will Ferrell) owned the kits, in this one, you can actually figure out why Finn and Bianca themselves would have these figures and the reasons range from funny to borderline profound. My personal favorite is ***MINOR SPOILER ALERT*** the fact that Finn keeps seeing Bruce Willis in ducts… because his dad showed him Die Hard and, as a teenager trying to be “mature,” that’s a movie that you tend to focus on ***SPOILER OVER***.

Overall, I loved this film. It definitely has a few slow scenes which tend to make more sense from the meta-level, but most of the movie is just so clever you’ll forget about it.

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.