What’s Popping (or not) – Soul

Kaylyn Schuh, Staff Reporter

Welcome to What’s Popping (or not), the column where I have hard opinions on your favorite movies, games, TV shows, and books, and decide whether it’s popping or not after an in-depth review.

Winter break gave me a lot of time to waste on watching movies and playing video games, but the first thing I wanted to review was Disney Pixar’s newest release, Soul. When I first saw the trailer for the movie, I was excited and then immediately let down. As more trailers and clips were released, I came to the conclusion that this movie could’ve gone in the same direction as Ratatouille, which would’ve made it better, but instead felt more like Inside Out. Now, I don’t mean to trash Inside Out because I do really like that movie, it’s just that Soul could’ve been better if it wasn’t so focused on appealing to a very young audience. I know it’s kind of weird to say that since this is a kid’s movie, but just stay with me. This should be a given, but there will be spoilers ahead.

Ratatouille is one of Pixar’s best movies, and I can say that with absolute confidence. The protagonist, Remy, is a talking rat who loves to cook. The whole movie revolves around his passion and drive to cook even though everyone thinks his dream is ridiculous and completely out of reach. There’s no set goal for the movie to follow, meaning it’s never specified that Remy wants to work with humans or open a restaurant, he just wants to cook. That’s it. This type of trope is easily butchered in lots of movies and can leave you feeling like the movie you just watched was a waste of time and very boring, but Ratatouille absolutely hits the nail on the head with this. Everyone just wants to watch this little guy cook and pursue his dreams, and seeing him succeed at the end is very fulfilling.

Now, the protagonist in Soul, Paul, loves music and has been searching for his big break for years against his mother’s wishes. He works part-time as a high school band teacher to make ends meet, but really only wants to become a full-fledged musician. When one of his former students contacts him with an opportunity to play with a big-name musician, Paul finally gets his big break. With that setup, you would think that it would be a lot like Ratatouille, right? Well, Paul actually falls down a manhole and dies after cheating death several times beforehand. This is when it takes more of an Inside Out turn. Paul’s soul is suddenly on the staircase to Heaven, but he refuses to accept his fate. He jumps off the staircase and falls into a new area which is referred to as the “Great Before” — it’s basically where new Souls are prepared for their life on Earth.

There are two main reasons why I don’t like the whole “Great Before” thing. One is that I really don’t think this movie needed it. Once again, it should’ve just been about a guy figuring out his place in the world. It’s also a pretty heavy theme to go over with such a light tone which was a bit weird. Two, I think it’s weird how this is the second time that Disney has had a leading black protagonist that isn’t in their own skin for most of the movie. The first time this happened was in the Disney Princess movie, The Princess and the Frog. For the majority of the movie, Tiana was a frog and not herself. For the majority of this movie, Paul is either a little blue soul or a cat… yeah, so he accidentally snatched a cat’s body after a failed attempt to get back into his old one. His body was snatched by a baby soul he met in the “Great Before” called 22.

22 has a bit of a dilemma because she just doesn’t want to go down to Earth to live her life. She doesn’t see the point and struggles to find motivation. While living in Paul’s body until they figure out how to fix things, she finally gets it and tries to steal Paul’s body because she’s afraid that life won’t be the same in her own. When she is in Paul’s body, though, we do get a lot of very impactful scenes and some very beautiful shots. Still, I just don’t really understand why the movie had to take this direction.
In the end, Paul does get his body back and absolutely kills the performance of his life. He’s having fun, he’s smiling, he’s losing himself in the music, and it seemed like he was really happy. However, after the performance, he’s confused as to why it isn’t as fulfilling as he thought it would be and that’s because he feels bad for abandoning 22 and telling her that just simply wanting to live isn’t motivation enough to… live basically. Before he goes back to help her, though, there’s this little montage of his life while he plays the piano and all I can say is wow. That sequence was so beautiful and well done, I definitely cried while watching that. Anyway, he goes back to the little soul place and apologizes to 22, and helps her get to Earth in her own body. That’s great and all but then he’s dead for good I guess. During the whole movie, I was a bit confused about how it was going to end, if Paul was going to really cheat death or if he was just going to die. Both were pretty underwhelming, but neither of them happens. Instead, one of the beings who work with baby souls allows him to go back to his body because they were impressed by what he did for 22. It was okay, I guess.

I was really unsure of how to rank this movie at first. On one hand, I really do enjoy the aesthetic and themes of the movie, but it’s how the themes are dealt with that really just annoy me. For real, I really just wish the movie was about Paul and his own search for his meaning in life. I feel like they could’ve completely taken out the whole soul place and 22 entirely, and just expanded more on his relationship with his students. He could’ve had the same mentor-like interactions with them and discovered the same things. It would’ve still adhered to younger viewers since Paul’s students are kids and they’d probably relate more to them while still maintaining the serious tones of the themes.

What I’m saying is that this movie is good, but it could’ve been so much better. It would probably earn itself a 5/10, but I decided to give it a 7/10 just because of how beautiful it is. Some of the scenes are so incredibly animated and I really enjoyed the whole aesthetic of the movie. Let’s also just take a moment to see how far Pixar has come with animating humans. Like seriously, look at the people in Toy Story and then look at them in Soul. The improvement is crazy. Anyway, I would say this movie is popping, but I don’t think I would watch it again. Thanks for tuning in, and make sure to come back in two or so weeks to see what’s popping (or not).