The animated movie is Disney’s bread and butter for providing family entertainment. Parents take their kid to a theater for some popcorn and watch a new offering that becomes an instant classic or see a re-released classic that connects parent and child, creating a shared childhood experience across the age gap. What happens when Disney makes an animated movie that is for adults only? Soul intends to reveal this.
Soul is the latest Pixar picture, offering up woke points as an African-American centric animated film. As it stumbles through clichés and one reads the wikipedia entry, it is comical how an idea from 2016 by a white director with input from a white screenplay writer became a black vehicle for standard issue liberal memes. The very name being soul, even if about all humans and the question of their souls, has to have a black lead. The sacred cows have soul, swag, pizazz, burst, and every intangible that the media lords say no one else has. It couldn’t be about a scientist as originally envisioned but a jazz musician because that is more “naturally pure” for a profession. There is a jazz band and a jazz performance, which for anyone who has been to a jazz festival or performance in the last few years will inspire a soft chuckle at the dearth of white audience members. By the end, you will be annoyed by all this crap, but annoyed is an emotion you will feel throughout the movie.
You will be annoyed because this is not the standard Pixar formula of funny gags and visuals for children to laugh at with some jokes or set ups for the parents watching along with their kids. This is a film made for childless, middle aged urbanites who are anxious about their shitty lives. The lead is a teacher who finally has a real job at 40-something who struggles to ever get his big chance playing jazz piano, and then finally gets it, and goddamnit, his mother just doesn’t understand. He dies and like a selfish urbanite, wants that big chance rather than face the afterlife. He gets kicked into a soul training camp for the unborn. He knows his purpose in life. He knows his spark. Being a musician, despite his decades of failure, is why he is on earth.
While hanging with the unborn as they get their souls, which is a very interesting framing of nature over nurture, our lead meets a soul who never found her spark to be ready to deploy to earth. This soul is voiced in a snarky, urbanite white female pattern (the film explicitly states how annoying middle aged white women are), who never can find her spark and refuses to go to earth. Her coaching under the lead allows us to see the lead has no life. He plays music, teaches and has no social life. No hall of achievements. No zest. She cannot find her thing, her spark and is forever in the realm of the unborn.
There are some simple gags, and your child will laugh at a few things involving a cat, but you can see how this has little appeal to kids. The two leads are an urbanite bugman (black edition) and a childish urbanite (female edition). These two types make up the target audience. That sarcastic, wise-crackin’ 30-something in the office who lives a solitary life is up there on the screen. She gets a happy ending, but what is interesting is that she comes to some realization that life is special only after you the audience hear the multiple mentors who lob criticism of her through the years. The dialogue is, quite simply, what the intended audience has heard from their parents not at age 8 or 12 but at age 28 or 32.
Conceptually and thematically, these issues are beyond kids. They want to see a world where what if toys were alive and aware, what if cars had a world, could a robot become human, what if the monsters under my bed were real and organized, what if the fish had a society, etc. There are adult themes and ideas in these films, but kids still love them for the silly anthropomorphic gags and humor designed for them. There is no kid to identify with and even the kid stand in, the unborn soul lead, is not a new, optimistic unborn soul with a childlike voice but a jaded, cynical middle aged voiced character.
This is Disney reacting to a change in its markets, serving the growing adult Disney fandom. We have seen the rise of Disney people, the emergence of Disney funerals, Disney weddings and Disney honeymoons. It would make sense that Pixar would create Pixar movies for the adults that they hooked in as kids twenty-five years ago. Another data point for this is the Pixar short “Out“. It is a twelve minute short about a gay man (white with non-white partner) who is not out to his family. He is comes to grips with life and out to his parents with the magical help of his dog. Gay club disco music and rainbow imagery are of course featured. Disney+ has this for you to view, and no parental warnings are on anything so the bright colors could lure in a child. A friend mentioned how the Star Wars films lacked a completed romance arc because that is Millenial dating. The black guy gets cucked by an older black guy, the white guy’s ex rejects any chance of reunion, and the white girl’s edgy, true love ODs. This is the anthropology of Disney people.
Back to Soul. There is the bildungsroman, and yes, the character does change to appreciate every breath of his life, but there was an arc building that disappeared and frankly, would have ended with a different resolution but not one the bugmen would want to hear. Throughout the film, there are steady hints at what a great teacher the lead is, but he doesn’t want to be a teacher, he wants to be a jazz artist. He inspires others to play, teaches others well enough to become performers, and halfway through the movie meets someone who didn’t become what they always wanted to be but found a fantastic, fulfilling life in another job. Of all the mentors assigned to the cynical unborn soul, he manages to teach her enough about living that she gets her spark. At the end of the film, urbanite bugman discovers that performing is going to be a grind and not what he thought it was. He’ll keep at it. Just enjoy your miserable, little life. He couldn’t be wrong about his spark because no Millenial is wrong. He never stops and says “hot damn, my gift, my purpose, my spark is in reaching and teaching others.”
This is the point though. Like the short that soothes the gay adult watching a Pixar short in their apartment, the childless urbanite is anxious. For the late X and early Millenial crowd, all of their life decisions from a decade or more ago are limiting their options for the next forty years. This is mid-life crisis time. These people are the administrator or helper class, if lucky, for the real owners of the cities, and do live crummy lives of takeout and pizza in cramped apartments. In their minds though, they are all temporarily embarrassed geniuses and virtuosos. There is no realization that the dream art gig is not going to happen, and they have to grow up. It might happen, but ho-hum it is just another job. No, the rest of the world has to accept them, just as the parents in Out have to accept their gay son. For all the criticism of Millenials, this is an X phenomenon. The Sex and the City viewers who rushed to the cities were first Xers, and Millenials followed the deluded path they blazed.
This type of media acts like the Daily Show derisive humor that offers no substance to challenge the dumb, evil other but mocks it for any reason. Expect more of these types of shows and films as this cohort ages, and the opportunities and standards of living decline while
elite credentialed, paper pusher overproduction kicks into high gear. Disney will be there to soothe their worries. What this class wants is arms to reach out of the screen, pat them on the head, rub their back and say, “there there, you’re smarter than them, you made great choices, you’re special, you’re going make it big, it is going to be all okay.“