Pixar is out to make us cry more. The new, full trailer for Soul, starring the voices of Jaime Foxx and Tina Fey, hit the net today. It looks like it will be another sob-fest that will explore life, death, and meaning in a way that Pixar and animation are so uniquely suited to do.
Soul tells the story of Joe Gardner, a music teacher and aspiring jazz musician played by Jaime Foxx. On the “best day of his life”, he suffers a fall and his soul ends up on the way to the great beyond. He’s not into the idea of dying yet so he breaks out and ends up in the great before and teams up with a new soul that doesn’t want to go to Earth.
The animation in this looks fantastic. I love the abstract versions of souls and their guardians. They’re so elastic and artistic and it’s lovely. The expression of the hereafter and before life and how music is being integrated also looks beautifully surreal. It looks playful and fun and even reminded me of shorts and Fantasia.
But there are also things in this trailer, and about the concept of the movie, that have me a bit worried.
For one, the trailer does my least favorite thing and gives us the entire story of the movie. It’s not surprising that there’s a Ghost Dad/Just Like Heaven twist (don’t be mad at me for spoiling these movies, they are bad!) where the deceased protagonist is just in a coma, but I wish they had kept that for audiences to discover when they saw the movie. Then again, maybe they want to assure potential viewers that Joe isn’t dead the whole time.
The other issue here is how this film adds on to the trope of “minority character doesn’t look like a minority for most of the movie.” This trope has been around for a while, all the way back to Brother Bear where the native protagonist is turned into an animal for most of the film. Then we had The Princess and the Frog where, again, the first black Disney Princess spent most of the movie as a frog, not a black woman.
Here we have Pixar’s first black-led story and our black hero will spend most of the movie a cute blue blob. It’s not whitewashing, but it’s not great either. While I’m excited about how this film will use jazz and explore a specifically black experience, it’s also unfortunate that it’s joining the ranks of this trope.
As with many harmful trends, it’s not the individual films or incidents that are bad. This movie looks beautiful and moving, and if it’s anything like Disney and Pixar’s last exploration of the afterlife, Coco, it will leave me a sobbing mess. But I hope that it finds a way to get past this trope to give us something truly great for Pixar’s “first black-led movie.”
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