“You know, lost souls are not that different from those in the zone. The zone is enjoyable, but when that joy becomes an obsession, one becomes disconnected from life.”
Pixar’s most experimental film since Wall-E, Soul is also one of its best even though I wish its focus had been slightly different. Pete Doctor has directed Pixar’s most creatively original films: Inside Out, Up and Monsters, Inc. (which for me remains the studio’s pinnacle). As in Up, he uses a masterclass opening sequence designed to communicate a single concept: the transportative power of music. Truly feeling Joe’s consciousness melt away in playing improvisational jazz is astounding. Soul‘s grander ambitions come from the non-musical meaning of its title: exploring the essence of what makes us human and individual. I am unsurprisingly in favour of allowing children to grapple with metaphysical concepts, and they are presented here with wondrous simplicity. It won’t be as outright entertaining as typical family fare, but it will definitely seed ideas and questions. The representation of pre-and-post-life in an abstract way — divorced from any religious angle — becomes somewhat sanitised, and its non-literal depiction more difficult to explain, though children capable of understanding Inside Out‘s conceptual take on emotions should be equally able to grasp Soul. So, whilst the richness of jazz may be merely the vehicle used for Soul‘s true intentions, the result is both unusual and impressive.
Although this is ostensibly the first time I have watched Mean Girls, as a child of the Internet I have been exposed essentially to the entire movie in memefied form. Rooted firmly in the early 2000s, with a high school experience likely unreconisable to teens now — from three-way calls on landlines to the complete absence of social media — its satire of high school cliques and the elevation of shallow idiocy has aged surprisingly well. The best visual moments are Cady’s visions of her peers acting like prehistoric primates in a way that shows human adolescence in its truest form — chattering chimps, fearful and desperate to fit in. Meanwhile, the film’s continuing quotability comes from Tina Fey’s ear for teenage dialogue that is simultaneously ridiculous but believeable. What nearly undermines Mean Girls entirely is its denouement, which abandons comedy in favour of tritely traditional teen movie resolution through a handful of speeches. Tina Fey’s script wants us not only to empathise with, but to like these characters, despite minimal consequence or growth from the pain each has caused. That, like ‘fetch’, is not going to happen. Ironically it is this failure to treat her characters sufficiently meanly which almost torpedos Mean Girls in its final act, though it is not enough to undo all that precedes it.