I want to start this review by providing a warning to anyone that might read it. While I will do my best to avoid spoilers there are some key elements of Soul that, when addressed, will give away the story. Please stop reading if you care about spoilers, however if not then you’ll have nothing to worry about. Disney’s Soul tells the story of Joe Gardner, a middle-aged musician whose whole life revolves around jazz. He’s got a passion for music that is unmatched by anyone else on the planet; at least that’s the way it seems. As fate would have it, he gets his big break when asked to play with jazz musician Dorothea Williams. Everything is looking up for Joe and that’s when he falls through a manhole cover to the sewer, Joe dies. I wish I were kidding or that this was a joke, but it is not. The main character of this story dies within the first ten minutes of this movie. I wanted to like it, I truly did, but his death is just one of many things that I did not care for in this film. Let’s break it down into pieces starting with the representation of Black people in animated movies. It’s no secret that many, if not most, of animated films featuring a Black lead involve transformation. They never stay a human for long even though the film is from their prospective. Soul is a beautifully animated movie, yet it lacks in every other aspect. While Joe is a Black man there’s really nothing about him that we get the chance to become attached to. He’s self-absorbed in life and self-absorbed in death. We don’t get to see any of the experiences he would have as a Black man or learn a lot about him because of this. It makes me sad because I had hoped this movie would reflect our culture similar to how Coco or Moana did for their respective cultures. A light shining in the Disney spotlight screaming “Hey, Black people are people too”. Instead we got a couple scenes here and there with the most noteworthy being a short barber shop visit.
Have you had a thought before and while it’s still developing another thought rudely jumps in to take its place? Now you’ve got two half ideas instead of a whole one. Well that is what the entirety of the story for this movie was. It was so poorly written that I’m shocked it became a movie. First off, we have the undeveloped main character that I mentioned early. Then the story takes a crazy turn when Joe decides that he’s not ready to go to heaven, called The Great Beyond, and instead opts to fall off the bridge thus ending up in The Great Before. This is where spirits are given their personality before going to earth. Somehow the guardians of these spirits don’t realize that Joe is an escapee and is trying to get back to his body. He then proceeds to meet a spirit referred to as “22” and spends the remainder of the film continuing his never-ending quest of getting back for the big jazz gig. Not to mention while all of this is going on another spirit named Terry is trying to find Joe because, if not found, his counting of all the spirits will be off. Is any of this sounding like a coherent story to you? Granted I’m trying not to give everything away; however, it really is lacking. To top it off if you fall so hard that you die, I don’t even understand how your body could be intact. How do you have a body to come back to without any broken bones or other issues? Please make it make sense to me. Disney’s Soul is yet another example of a star-studded cast not being able to succeed due to a bad script. There are many different angles that could have been taken in this journey of self-discovery. Personally, I would have loved seeing Joe in a “Freaky Friday” type situation where he is in the body of another Black person and sees what life can be like outside of his jazz bubble. I would have preferred almost anything other than a selfish Black man screwing over everyone he can to get his body back because jazz is all that matters. There’s nothing wrong with being passionate about a skill you have and chasing your dreams. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with wanting more for yourself than a mediocre life, but my issue is when a movie has the potential to say a lot about Black people and chooses to say nothing.