by Emilie Rush
From A Bug’s Life, to The Incredibles, to Wall-E, Pixar has proved that they don’t just make movies, they make memories. Watching Pixar movies was a definitive part of my childhood. I remember watching Brad Bird’s The Incredibles for the first time, sitting on the floor of my grandparent’s living room, surrounded by my cousins. When I think of Wall-E I remember being home sick from school, covered in blankets on the couch, sipping on a cup of orange juice as the movie temporarily distracted me from my illness. A Bug’s Life was too scary for me when I was young, after watching it, I was plagued by roach infested nightmares. The magic of pixar is that they made these mundane moments, spending time with my family, staying home sick, having bad dreams special, thanks to the magic and nostalgia of their films.
It’s no different with their newest installation Soul. The film tells the story of New York local, and aspiring Jazz musician, Joe Gardner, after an unfortunate accident sends him on a one way ticket to the “Great Beyond”. But Joe isn’t ready to say goodbye to everything his life might have been, and decides to masquerade as a soul counselor in the “Great Before” to get back home. He is assigned the troublesome task of helping a wayward soul named 22 find her spark so that she can finally live a life of her own, launching an adventure that asks the viewer big questions (and suggests it’s okay not to have the answers).
Tina Fey voices the incorrigible 22, but unlike Foxx and Gardner I’m not sure this was a perfect fit. Fey is a very widely known actress, with a unique comedic style (probably thanks to her time on SNL), and I found it very jarring within the context of the film. Foxx let Gardner have the opportunity to get deep and raw, but I felt like Fey held back a little bit. There’s a scene at the end when 22 reaches the resolution of her plotline, she’s ready to go live, and the moment feels flat. Although one of the trademarks of Pixar films is bright lively characters, 22 felt less like her own person, and more like a tiny animated version of Tina Fey herself.
As I sat down to watch this movie one Friday night over December break with my parents, I wasn’t expecting to be quarreling with myself about humanity’s capacity for free will and purpose as the credits rolled, but now, even two months later, I still am. Pixar movies are marketed to children and families, but Soul proves that older audiences can find just as much value in a colorful, somewhat cheesy, animated film as kids.
It takes more than the perfect shots, the perfect editing, the perfect sound mixing, to make a great movie. And all of that unspoken leftover magic is something that Pixar, and Soul really double down on.