I watched and have many thoughts about the Pixar release “Soul”. It was a mixed bag for me, as are almost all movies about jazz. The music felt more “jazzy” than jazz to me, although the musicians are excellent at what they do. But I am not writing about that or the plausibility of a middle school teacher being a complete unknown in his 40s in NYC but being at a level where a true jazz great hires him on the spot to join the band. (And people called Lord of the Rings a fantasy!)
In this case I thought there was an added complication. The main auteur, Pete Docter, decided he needed to make sure Soul was authentic to the jazz and African-American experience. OK…. it is somewhat ironic that an animated film insists on authenticity in a story where one main character, played by Jamie Foxx, ends up inhabiting a cat for a while, and an amorphous “soul to be” (Tina Fey) inhabits the body of the Jamie Foxx character for a while, but that’s another discussion. So Docter and Pixar brought on new creative partners to write/co-direct with him in search of authenticity. It makes sense, in a way, although if we start restricting writers, actors, composers, etc to only do art from their specific and particular background we may as well just throw out any and everything creative folks do and did that doesn’t check their specific history. “excuse me, Jane Austen, you have no penis, what business do you have writing male characters?” “Pardon me, Mark Twain, how DARE you depict Merlin the wizard? You sir, are NO wizard!” Anyway, like I said, no issue with that if that was Docter’s choice. But it gets much stranger.
There was, I kid you not, about a 100 person committee so to speak, a cultural phalanx, so to speak, brought in to vet and pass a stamp of approval on the finished film. (watch the credits if you don’t believe me.) That did not work in the Soviet Union or Mao’s China, and it does not work here. No disrespect to the carefully curated committee, made up of some real leading lights in arts and culture. However! Anyone who has ever composed, written, etc, knows that past a very short number, there is subtraction by addition, whether it be a symphony, a play, a film a painting, a song, etc…usually when you see 7 or 8 folks attached to a script it is gonna be pretty bad. But when you have to run the gauntlet of 100 or so big-name celebs to get your stamp of authenticity? Well! You know the saying about too many cooks spoiling the broth? Try having 100 different chefs having to taste and approve the bouillabaisse! That is what Soul felt like to me. Trying to satisfy so many extra-musical, extra-artistic concerns and agendas that all of the afterlife got sucked out of it. The film was so overly vetted and micro-managed that whatever excellent script/idea may have originally been there lost all of its – wait for it – soul.
Speaking of, now THIS is some serious soul, NOT vetted by a committee!