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Searching For Meaning In ‘Soul’: Robin’s Movie Reviews

The movie's main character, Joe, is walking down stairs made of piano keys while smiling at the camera.

After solving the mysteries of talking toys, cars and fish, the Disney-Pixar group finds answers to soul-searching questions in its newest release. Soul checks in on the meaning of life, as its main character sidesteps death and falls into the wrong space as an inadvertent mentor. Perfect for kids, right?

Well, of course — Pixar started on that ride years ago, and Soul’s writer-director Pete Docter already earned animation Oscars for his exploration of emotions with Up and Inside Out. In Soul, Docter starts by using animated people and places that seem familiar as a middle school music teacher named Joe seeks to break out of his rut and play with the pros. His dream drops and he finds himself in a magical place created by Docter: “The Great Before.” Full of pastel colors and neon characters gleaned from Picasso, the new world offers wide-eyed, childlike creations with appealing innocence for younger viewers.

But then comes a character called Soul 22, a spirit who sees no need to move to a place full of humans. In a nod to adult viewers, Joe — voiced by Jamie Foxx — wonders why Soul 22 talks like a middle-aged white lady. Sounding just like Tina Fey, Soul 22 says she chose the most annoying voice she could find. Soul 22 also makes references to various philosophers, including Lincoln, Gandhi and others, who fail to live up to their reputations around her. They also miss out on changing her view about joining the human race. Soul 22 doesn’t want to live, Joe doesn’t want to die, and the two team up on a trip to the reds, browns and natural textures of New York City for adventures that include a talking cat and lots of jazz music. Fantasy dominates, but the reality of life’s ultimate concerns gives the movie its soul.

COVID-19 delayed Soul’s June premiere in theaters, and the movie first started streaming Christmas day on Disney+. 

Robin Holabird is a former film commissioner for the Nevada Film Office and a longtime KUNR entertainment reviewer. Catch her commentary Fridays during Fresh Air, between 2:37 and 2:47 p.m.

KUNR's Jayden Perez adapted this story for web.

Robin Holabird reviews movies for KUNR, and her reviews have aired for more than 30 years. During that time, she has had a high profile in the Nevada film community.
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