For over 25 years, Disney•Pixar has gone without a black lead voice in any of their feature films. Of course, that all changed last year with the release of “Soul” on Disney+. And after spending a few months on the streaming service, it is finally hitting store shelves for those who enjoy collecting physical media. Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment will release “Soul” on Ultra HD Blu-ray, Blu-ray, DVD, and Digital on March 23, 2021.
Though “Soul’s” commercial success could not be truly measured due to the fact that theaters were closed and its debut on the streaming platform, it was a delight for critics. Though reports say that Disney+ subscribership increased 13% so that the new subscribers could view the film. Additionally, it was among the most-watched straight-to-streaming titles of the year, right behind fellow Disney+ release “Hamilton” and fellow Christmas release “Wonder Woman 1984.” It has earned numerous animation-related nominations, including three Academy Award nominations for Best Animated Feature, Best Original Score, and Best Sound.
As far as my thoughts on the film itself go, it’s interesting how much my thoughts on “Soul” have changed since its release. Watching it now, the film feels less like a celebration of Black culture and more like something that shoehorns it in. These moments are fleeting and add nothing to the overall story itself. At times, the film’s tones change almost on a dime from when (Jamie Foxx), a middle school jazz teacher, finally catches a big break in his fruitless jazz career. But when his life is cut short due to an accident, Joe finds himself escaping the afterlife by breaking into “The Great Before,” a fantastical place where potential souls gain their personalities just before they are matched with their humans on the physical plane.
Though Joe is already an existing soul, he believes he’s found a loophole to return to his body when he meets 22 (Tina Fey), a precocious soul with no desire to be matched with a human, and is content on living life in “The Great Before.”
Though “Soul” is almost in the same vein as “Inside Out,” considering it weaves existential concepts into the narrative and visually striking imagery, it’s not nearly as well-executed in its storytelling. It poses these deep-thinking questions without providing any sufficient answers. Of course, there are no answers to what our purpose in life is, but “Soul” feels like it was designed to explore fantastical settings like “The Great Before,” “You Seminars,” and “The Zone,” while also taking a tour of New York and its jazz scene. There is no emotional follow-through either as the film is more interested in reaching the end rather than fleshing out the character’s journey.
“Soul” also doesn’t do itself any favors by asserting the idea that the film is a celebration of Black culture when it does everything to sideline it by treating it as a nonessential piece to Joe’s arc. Furthermore, most of the film reduces Joe to a supporting character when he is supposed to be the lead. While the story is meant to tell us about there being more to life than our ambitions, it would have worked so much better if Joe was actually experiencing it rather than being just a witness to 22 experiencing life on Earth.
It only gets more complicated as the film takes 22 (in Joe’s body) and Joe (who is in a therapy cat’s body) to a barbershop or to meet up with Joe’s mom to get his suit adjusted for a gig at a jazz club. Everything that 22 is experiencing in Joe’s body feels like it is experienced by a white person. Using the body-swap plot device to convey everything Joe has been missing comes off as well-intentioned, and to a certain extent, it looks beautiful. But seeing the barbershop scenes or his interactions with Joe’s mother, it almost feels like these are scenes that were inserted more by a committee to ensure that “Soul” delivers its promising of being a film that has a Black lead and celebrates black culture instead of something that’s pure and an organic piece to the story.
Despite these issues, Pixar still brought these images and stories to life in a way that only a few other studios ever did. Films and shorts like “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” and “Hair Love” brought forth the kind of representation that has ever been seen before in a film from a major studio. “Soul’s” attempt to bring that same representation through its stunning visuals, whether in a fantastic setting or a grounded one, may look beautiful, but the aesthetics of it all doesn’t complement the overall narrative. That being said, if you are looking at it from a visual and listening to its sound and terrific score, then “Soul” is a solid addition to your home entertainment collection.
The audio for the film features a Dolby Atmos mix technology that recreates a theatrical environment. Normally that would mean a bombastic feel as the sounds reverberate throughout the room. However, much of that effect comes from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’s unique, otherworldly sound. Simultaneously, Jon Batiste humanizes the film with his jazz numbers specifically for the jazz scene and Joe’s emotional connection to the genre. With the music and images working together in tandem, it creates a sense of wonder and beautifully visualizes Joe’s talents.
Visually, both worlds of “The Great Before” and New York are rich and vibrant in color. The former may be somewhat simple, with its souls resembling blobs, while soul counselors looking like a living creation of Harold and the Purple Crayon. The depth of color and those shapes create a world that may be abstract but have a real tangibility to it contains real-world locations like seminars, cafes, and the “hall of you” – a museum dedicated to the key moments of a mentor’s life.
All of the soft and warm blue hues of this ethereal world are juxtaposed against the richly detailed world of New York City. The business of this animated depiction evokes the real hustle and bustle of New York City. And the animation style of it all is a direct contrast to what happens on the other side of the plain. The Earthbound world has a wide array of visual complexities, from the shine on the brass of musical instruments to the threads’ textures seen in Joe’s mother’s tailor shop.
As for the bonus features, they do contain the standard deleted scenes along with the audio commentary. But for those who are looking at how a film of this size and scope gets made during a pandemic, then “‘ Soul,’ Improvised” may just be your thing as it looks at how the creative team worked on a Pixar schedule from the comforts of their home.
If music is your thing, then “Into the Zone: The Music and Sound of Soul” takes a look at the inspirations behind the music of the film and has interviews with Ross and Reznor, as well as Batiste. All in all, it’s a pretty swell collection of bonus features.
Check out the full list below.
– Deleted Scenes
• Introduction – Writer Mike Jones and story supervisor Kristen Lester introduce the “Soul” deleted scenes.
• Mentor Orientation – Joe sneaks into the You Seminar Mentor Program orientation, trying to figure out how on earth he can get back to … Earth.
• Clubhouse Forgery – Joe follows 22 into her “secret lair” as she reluctantly agrees to help him find his way back to Earth.
• Home Lessons – Stuck inside Joe’s body, 22 clumsily attempts to help the downstairs neighbor.
• Living the Dream – Joe has a heart-to-heart with 22 about her fear of living on Earth, then tries to make his way back home via a dream portal.
• Press Shot – Joe, stuck in a cat’s body, and 22, stuck in Joe’s body, take the subway to the jazz club for a publicity photography session.
– Audio Commentary – View the film with audio commentary by director Pete Docter, co-director/writer Kemp Powers, and producer Dana Murray.
– Not Your Average Joe – See the thought and care that went into crafting Joe and his story in Pixar’s first film to feature a Black leading character.
– Astral Taffy – Get an in-depth look at the artistry and technical innovation that went into creating the sets and characters in the world of “Soul.”
– Pretty Deep for a Cartoon – The filmmakers tackle big questions, such as where does a newborn’s personality comes from, what’s the meaning of life, and more!
– Into the Zone: The Music and Sound of Soul – Explore the movie’s different sonic worlds and discover how music drives and adds specificity to Joe’s journey.
– “Soul,” Improvised – See how the Pixar Systems team and “Soul” ‘s crew managed to finish the film on schedule during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
– Jazz Greats – Giants of the jazz world who consulted on “Soul” share their passion and hard-won wisdom about what music is and does for us all.
Disney•Pixar’s “Soul” arrives on 4K, Blu-ray, and DVD on March 23rd, 2021.
TWO (2) ThatsITLA winners will receive a digital code for Disney Pixar’s Soul. The code can be redeemed at MoviesAnywhere.com or on the Movies Anywhere app.
Giveaway ended! Winners are Alana and Candie L.
The Giveaway ends March 26th, 2021. The winner will be announced on March 2th.
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