Saturday, December 26, 2020

Movie with Abe: Soul

Directed by Pete Docter and Kemp Powers
Released December 25, 2020 (Disney Plus)

There are many things that we just can’t know about the universe. Plenty of theories exist about how the world came into being and what the meaning of life is, and people search for years for answers that aren’t definitive and can’t be proven. One wonderful possibility that storytelling and cinema present is the opportunity to explore notions of identity and purpose through creative outlets, imagining the systems that could be in place to combine all the elements of personality and soul to create what it is that we perceive as life.

Joe is a middle school band teacher whose big dream is to play piano. He is elated when he receives a chance to perform with the famed Dorothea Williams, but falls into a manhole as he rushes around New York City in excitement. He finds himself in line for the great beyond and manages to escape to a place where young souls are cultivated and prepared for life. He poses as a mentor for the troublesome 22, a soul infamous for her resistant attitude, so that he can utilize the pass she’ll gain to return to Earth and his body. In the process of desperately trying to get home, Joe unexpectedly learns a lot from someone who hasn’t yet had the chance to live.

This marks the twenty-third film from Pixar, and, like its previous feature, “Onward,” it tackles a very adult subject in a way that’s accessible for all ages. It shouldn’t be thought of as a film about death since it doesn’t actually posit much about what comes next aside from a vast, mysterious image of the great beyond, and instead it’s a film about life. Joe has always been looking to what he might be able to accomplish and worried about what he hasn’t done yet, a preoccupation that keeps him from truly appreciating what he does have. All he needs to do in order to truly see it is step out of his body, something that this fantastical setup offers him.

This animated delight is best compared to “Inside Out,” another Pixar entry that sought to look behind what goes into people and dissect the ingredients that come together to form personality and purpose. As usual, it’s a remarkably successful experiment, one that sometimes matches the emotional power of “Up” and at others handles its comedy very well, including in the long line of impressive mentors from history who have become impossibly frustrated with 22 as a rebellious mentee determined to break their resolve. The voice cast, led by Jamie Foxx and Tina Fey, is wonderful, making this film a completely enjoyable and thought-provoking journey to find what makes us who we are.


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