2021 Oscar Reviews: Soul

For the past several years, I’ve attempted to watch as many Oscar-nominated films as possible, and for the past two years I have written reviews of each film and posted them to this blog. Alas, I always run out of time and cannot see everything. This year’ ceremony has been delayed, and I started reviewing before nominations were announced, giving me a decent chance at wide coverage. Today we cover…

Soul

[3 nominations for Best Animated Feature, Best Sound, and Best Original Score]

UGH. For some stupid reason I thought that, when I moved from the heavy “real” movies to the kid-friendly animated movies I could finally stop sobbing my eyes out. I WAS SO WRONG. This movie had me reaching for the hanky over and over again. I’m also about a quarter of the way through Onward, which is about kids trying to connect to their DEAD PARENT. So…yeah. There is no hiding from the emotions this year, I guess.

Anyhoo, Soul is basically a combo of Inside Out and The Good Place. It’s a cerebral flick about souls. In our case, we have a soul from a recently deceased guy who doesn’t want to leave earth, and the have a yet-to-be-born soul who doesn’t want to go to earth. They team up and in the process both learn valuable life lessons about what matters in life, blah blah blah. There’s plenty of great stuff here. I don’t really know anything about jazz, but John Baptiste seems like a pretty cool guy and I know he was heavily involved with the music. The vast majority of our human characters were black, so it’s nice to see that representation. I have a sweet spot for Astoria, which was pretty accurately depicted. It’s Pixar, so of course the 3D modeling was incredible and super on point. And the voice cast was UNREAL. So many super amazing talented people were in this. So many, in fact, that I’m confused on why they bothered to book so many big names for such small roles. I was excited to learn Daveed Diggs was in this (if you have not seen Blindspotting, drop what you’re doing and go watch it right now!!!), then near the end of the movie went “Wait… where was he?” His character was literally in just 1 scene, with I think maybe 4 or 5 lines. What a waste! My favorite casting (and with enough lines to shine) was Richard Ayoade as a… something.

What did Ayoade play? Who knows. This movie was VERY smart, and I think way too advanced for little kids to have any clue what’s going on. We’re two highly-educated adults who generally follow movie plots pretty well, and yet several times we had to stop and rewind to figure out what was happening. On one hand, some of the best content was the adult content. My personal favorite jokes came during flashbacks when we see our unborn soul interacting with various historic figures, making references no grade schooler would ever understand (unless they’re teaching Carl Jung a lot earlier these days). On the other hand, the very premise of the movie was kinda… elaborate, let’s say. Ayoade is a counselor who exists in The Great Beyond. He is a weird 2-dimensional line drawing that morphs in a strange void along with other counselors and prepares souls by assigning them personalities or something, and then pairing them off with… mentors? Unclear who or what mentors are, but they’re tasked with helping souls find a spark so they can complete a merit badge thing that allows them to got to earth. It makes no sense, but whatever. It’s very creative.

For me personally, this premise was a bit too convoluted and confusing. The storylines down on earth were pretty solid, the creative visuals were impressive, and the jokes were hilarious (there’s a solid Pizza Rat reference, for example). But the actual “soul” stuff felt like it was trying to be Inside Out but just wasn’t quite pulling it off for me. I assume this movie will win Best Animated Feature, since I think the biggest movie always wins and this movie was pretty big. But I dunno… it just wasn’t as good as Inside Out.


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