The Other Side of Animation 200: Soul Review

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(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com/camseyeview. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

HEADS UP: I was able to watch this film thanks to Disney via a screener. Enjoy the review!

It all started back in September 2015. I wrote my first review of Ernest & Celestine, one of my favorite films of all time, and one of my all-time favorite animated films period. I made it a goal to cover everything out there that wasn’t Disney and Pixar. I chose to exclude those two because I wouldn’t have that much else to add to the discourse. I usually love their animated features, but I tend to dislike the ones that are the obvious bad eggs of the bunch. My goal was to talk about animated films that were under the radar or talk about the other big animated films. Well, it’s been five years, and why not break some rules? From now on, I’ll drop a review of an animated film from Disney and/or Pixar from time to time on my site. Why? Because as much as I love showing off animated films from around the world, from other companies, and introducing you all to these amazing wonders that are made by hand or by computer, sometimes, I want to indulge in what everyone else is seeing. So, how about we make this 200th review the newest Pixar film, Soul

Directed by Pete Doctor and Kemp Powers, and written by Doctor, Powers, and Mike Jones, this is Pixar’s newest animated feature and the first feature film from the company to have a black co-director and a predominantly black cast. It was originally scheduled to be released back in June 2020, but due to the pandemic, it was delayed and then controversially given a Disney+ release. Luckily, unlike Mulan 2020, it didn’t cost extra. So, was there any real worry about this film hitting the streaming service? Nope! Let’s dive in! 

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Soul follows our main character Joe Gardner, voiced by Jamie Foxx. Joe is a music teacher who dreams of being a famous jazz pianist and playing with one of the big players in the music world. One day, he auditions with one of the biggest jazz musicians around, Dorothea Williams, voiced by Angela Bassett. After he succeeds in the audition, he exudes his happiness across the city until he falls into an open manhole. Through some obvious denial of dying or being close to death, Joe ends up in a realm where souls are made and get their personalities. He encounters a soul named 22, voiced by Tina Fey, who has been there for who knows how long, and doesn’t want to leave and go to earth. Joe then makes a deal with 22 that if he can find her spark, she will give Joe her patch to let him come back to life. Can Joe fulfill this fairly heady and philosophical task? Will he be able to fulfill his love for jazz? Or will Joe and 22 find something new that gives their life that spark? 

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So, from every review you may have read about this film, this is Pixar’s most mature film. It’s not mature in the sense that people swear and there is a lot of violence. That would honestly be interesting to see what Pixar could do with an actual PG-13 or R-rated film. Anyway, this is mature in the sense that the film is exceptionally heady. I mean, when you are a film about life, love, death, finding your spark, and very ethereal concepts about, well, the human experience and soul, it’s going to be not the most child-friendly tone. However, while it might not outwardly be the most approachable film for super young kids, I think everyone needs to see Soul. It’s a story that juggles a lot of these concepts, and finds incredible ways to execute the ideas given to the audience. What does “before-life” look like? Are you born with that spark? What happens when you find that spark? Is it the same goal or passion you started with? What makes you, well, you? What happens when you become too stressed out or too worn out by finding your passion? What does your soul look like when this happens? It’s a film that wants to tackle some heavy topics, and I admire the heck out of that. So many animation “fans” ask and “demand” animated films to be “taken seriously”. Well, this is the film you want then. I mean, in my opinion, animated films made in the US can be any genre, but that’s beside the point. 

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This would all be for naught if the characters didn’t work, and boy howdy do I love the cast. I think while this film can be approachable by all, it’s focused on a somewhat older audience. I think it’s amusing that we have a main character who is middle-aged. I know some people think animated films that want to be seen by kids and families should have child-like protagonists, but I disagree. You can tell stories with characters of all ages. I like that we have a middle-aged hero. It feels different. The characters have great chemistry, and I loved seeing Joe and 22 together as 22 slowly finds that spark. The film is full of multiple memorable characters, from the spirit counselors to the side characters. Even characters you see in only one scene leave an impression. One of my favorite scenes in the entire film is when Joe and 22 go to the barbershop and we meet Dez, who is voiced by Donnell Rawlings. Not only does it do a good job of adding to the overall black experience and culture, but it’s also one of the most thematically important scenes in the film. The spirit counselors are also a lot of fun to watch, and have some of the best lines in the movie. I admire that there is no real bad guy. I adore animated films that do the “there is no real bad guy, but everyone is flawed” thing. 

*small spoiler talk here*

With all that said, I know one scene may rub some people the wrong way, where 22 ends up in Joe’s body while Joe ends up in the body of a cat. I think if this was handled by any other studio, it would have looked really bad for understandable reasons. What does save this scene, and I think Kemp and Pete handle this well with making souls non-binary with no real gender, race, or sex identification. I think this is the first Pixar film to have non-binary characters. Plus, this point of the film is for Joe to see life and passion from a different perspective. However, if you agree or disagree with me on this point, that’s perfectly fine, and I get if some people may or may not get rubbed the wrong way from it.

*Small spoiler talk ends here* 

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Speaking of the cast, the voice cast is pretty great. An element that I love about Pixar and Disney animated film casting is that they don’t rely on the hype of the big names they get. They do rely on big names, but it’s never the selling point, unlike some films that make it priority number one like Rango having Johnny Depp. The cast including Jamie Foxx, Tina Fey, Questlove, Phylicia Rashad, Daveed Diggs, Angela Bassett, Graham Norton, Rachel House, Richard Ayoade, Alice Braga, Wes Studi, Fortune Femster, Enobia Shroff, Donnell Rawlings, June Squibb, Ester Chae, and other big names like Cody Chestnutt making small cameos, brings so much life to the story, and I admire how predominantly black this cast is. The dialogue is complex, funny, heartfelt, and real. No one is relying on hip modern lingo, or is trying too hard to stand out. 

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I’m a little shocked it’s taken this long in the review to talk about the stellar animation. It’s incredible. From the textures, the lighting, and the hair physics, the characters look incredible. I like that the design work for humans is at a point where we can make consistently good-looking humans with CGI animation. All it takes is a little elbow grease and the right art style. I love the designs for the spirit counselors, and I’m curious as to how challenging they were to tackle, due to them being essentially flat abstract lines. The worlds that they create are fully realized, and show some of the best animation and sequences out of any Pixar film. The music that is composed by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross is full of whimsical delights, and ethereal tracks that make you feel otherworldly. Even Cody Chestnutt has a song in the film that melts my heart with love each time I listen to it. The more jazz and soul music used in the film was by Jon Batiste, and man, I adored the music from top to bottom. It’s easily one of my favorite Disney soundtracks. 

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I don’t know what else I could say. Soul is one of Disney and Pixar’s best films. I would argue it’s one of the most ambitious animated films of all time. Will I be shocked or hate anyone who doesn’t love the film? Of course not! However, if you want to join the discussion about it, I recommend watching this film and coming up with your own opinions and observations. Who knows, maybe you will find something that I didn’t notice for the first time. If this doesn’t convince you to support this film and watch it, then I don’t know what will. Well, I’m glad I decided to make this my first Pixar and Disney film to review. Now then, it’s time to go back to what I specialize in and also love talking about, foreign animation. Next time, we will be talking about Lupin III: The First

Thanks for reading the review! I hope you all enjoyed reading it! If you would like to support my work, make sure to share it out, and if you want to become a Patreon supporter, then you can go to patreon.com/camseyeview. I will see you all next time! 

Rating: Criterion/Essentials!

Favorite Shorts from the 19th Animation Show of Shows

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(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this editorial/list!)

Recently, I went with my dad to the 19th Animation Show of Shows. This was a viewing of 16 different animated shorts from around the world. It was a blast, and there were plenty of amazing shorts that were shown. I decided to do a list of my favorite ones. I’m not going to go in any order, because one being better than another one came down to splitting hairs, and really, they all deserve a place on this list.

Can You Do It

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This was the first short shown as a cool mix of CGI and a wonderful modern pop art style by director Quentin Baillieux. While it is a glorified music video for the song by Charles X, it’s a fantastic and fairly optimistic song laid over a mix of economic classes, coming together for this one event. It’s an incredible short, and has an incredible song.

Next Door

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While this short is from 1990, this 2D animated short from now-famed director Pete Docter was full of charm. The 2D animation was fluid, and the cute story of a young girl and a grumpy old guy bonding over something made my heart flutter around with happiness. It’s also a good historic short for people curious to see Pete’s earlier work.

The Alan Dimension

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This was a fun and charming short by Jac Clinch. Its mix of 2D, CGI, and stop-motion made it one of the more visually unique animated shorts about an old man who has this special power to see into the future. It was the right balance of funny and heartwarming, as it showed what happens when you think too much about the future, but not enough about what’s important to you right here and right now in the present.

Hangman

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If I was putting these in order, I think Hangman, a short from 1964 by Paul Julian and Les Goldman, that was remastered in 2017, would be my favorite out of the 16. This animated adaptation of a philosophical poem, while lacking in pure 2D animation, made up for it in a strong, foreboding, eerie, and uncomfortable atmosphere. Seeing how the Hangman worked, and how the people reacted to the individual was the highlight of the short. While a lot of it was still frames, I could argue that when there is animation, it elevates the horror aspect of the short. You can find it on YouTube (though not in amazing quality), but if they can somehow restore this, and upload it to YouTube or on a DVD with some extras talking about it, I would definitely recommend checking it out.

Gokurosama

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After Hangman, my second favorite of the shorts was this French animation called Gokurosama. It was an effort by Clémentine Frère, Aurore Gal, Yukiko Meignien, Anna Mertz, Robin Migliorelli, and Romain Salvini. The CGI animation was perfect for this type of short. It had a nice misty glow to the entire Japanese shopping mall location, and everyone looked like small model figurines that you would see in a miniature display of a building that you would show to investors. While there is no dialogue, the fact that it perfectly paces itself with the physical comedy and a very simple slice-of-life story is what made this a highly watchable short. It reminds me how creative certain people can be when working with certain limitations, and I want to see more animated films try and be like this short or Hangman.

Dear Basketball

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I’ll admit, when I was writing my editorial about the Oscar-animated shorts, I was fairly harsh on this short. I know there is a lot of talk about Kobe’s past allegations, and while I still enjoyed LOU and Revolting Rhymes more, Glen Keane and Kobe Bryant’s Dear Basketball was a fantastic short. I still adore the fanciful pencil sketch style that flowed well with the elegant John Williams score. It’s not just a short about basketball, it’s about a man who gave his life, body, and soul to the love and passion he had for his sport. It’s an emotionally touching short, and I can’t wait to see what Glen Keane does next with his upcoming feature film.

Island

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This German short by director Max Mortl and Robert Lobel had a very cute stop-motion look to the rhythm of nature. It has no dialogue in it, and only has the sounds of the wildlife that end up making a catchy tune. Its designs might be simple, but they get the job done, and make for some pretty humorous animal designs. It was one of the shorter shorts on this list, but it was the right amount.

Unsatisfying

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Unsatisfying was probably the shortest of the shorts on this list of favorites, but it seems like it was intentionally short. This humorous 3D/CGI short was showed the most unsatisfying moments in life. They are simply small moments that kept building up as to how unsatisfying certain moments in life are. I think anyone who watches this short can relate to something, like a soda getting stuck in a vending machine, missing the bullseye playing darts, and you get the idea. It’s bittersweet, but all around hilarious.

 My Burden

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My Burden is a stop-motion film by Niki Lindroth Von Bahr about the night lives of night shift employees, all of which are animals, at a customer support service, a hotel, a grocery store, and a fast-food joint. While the tone has music and individuals dancing, it also shows darker themes that the director described of boredom, being alone, and existential anxiety. While I have never really worked night shifts, I can understand on an emotional level how that feels. The stop-motion animation was charming, and there was a subtle sense of humor with certain moments, like an anchovy at the hotel saying he’s alone, because he has bad skin. It might be a weird short about animals with night-shift jobs, but that weird feel is what makes this a favorite short.

Our Wonderful Nature: The Common Chameleon

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Listen, I love nature documentaries, and whenever I see one on TV, I do watch it. However, I loved this wonderful CGI short parodying a segment of a nature show. Directed by Tomer Eshed, this German-animated short was misleading, in a good way. At first, you see the fairly realistic-looking CGI chameleon, but then you see the animation side of things slowly ooze out with how the chameleon smiles after eating a small fly, and then watch as his constant hunger gets the best of him. It’s another short that has no real dialogue besides the faux nature documentary narrator, and relies on physical comedy. It’s short, but very effective. It was probably the one short that got some of the biggest laughs in my theater.

Everything

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Now, I do have some issues with this one being considered an animated short. It’s a really good short, but should it count as an animated short when it’s a video game? It’s basically some slightly altered gameplay footage. However, I can’t deny that this was a very effective short. The voice-over narration done by late British philosopher Alan Watts really makes you have an existential moment about life. He unloads about how everything is connected, from the smallest atom, to the biggest living creature. Everyone has a role to play, and we constantly rely on one another to live. The visuals are simple, but they get the job done. Plus, the simple visuals get really surreal when you see a bunch of items flying around in space. While I can debate if this actually counts as an animated short, it’s still a short worth checking out!