Pete Docters soul is Pixar’s third original feature in a row Coco and Continue, that is explicitly about death, finality and, in a sense, what lies behind it.
The convergence of these three films comes to a head in a remarkable preoccupation with death that perhaps began in Toy Story 2, with Woody’s parental fears of wearing out (“Toys don’t last forever”) and being literally on a shelf – a phrase that idiomatically evokes the fears of older parents about being tossed aside and neglected by their adult children. (Underlined is the nightmare image of an apathetic Andy throwing the broken Woody away and dropping him on a pile of playing cards that are the ace of spades. Underneath is a waiting trash can full of broken toy pieces that will be forgotten.)
Directed by Pete Docter. Jamie Foxx, Tina Fey, Graham Norton, Rachel House, Alice Braga, Richard Ayoade, Phylicia Rashad, Donnel Rawlins, Questlove, Angela Bassett. Disney / Pixar.
Artistic / entertainment value
Moral / spiritual value
+2 / -1
Kids & Up *
Treating death with brief danger and slightly unsettling images; mild rude humor; Fantastic representation of spiritual realities, including the pre-existence of souls.
The cremation scene in is even more open Toy Story 3, with the toys taking each other’s hands, was a wordlessly eloquent expression of solidarity in the face of the inevitable.
Death as a plot point or part of life is simply a part of storytelling and has been part of US feature animation since the days of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Bambi.
Death as a thematic concern – recurring or persistent existential fear in the face of mortality or permanent separation from loved ones – is something different and is particularly characteristic of Pixar.
Visually, the image of luminous souls attracted to an immeasurable light is far more evident on a transcendent higher reality than the eschatology of Cocoin which the dead skeletons, as soon as they are finally forgotten on earth, are shaken by tremors and fade to dust. And it is important that where Coco speaks alarmingly of “ultimate death”, soul speaks of “the great beyond”. Even so, this zapping almost ruins it.
The death of Nemo’s mother Coral in the prologue of Find Nemo is basically a plot point, an exciting incident behind Marlin’s fears as helicopter parents. The death of Carl Fredrickson’s wife Ellie in the prologue of Above is different. Above it is essentially about grief in various forms, both healthy and pathological; about preparing for death.
In a more reserved way Cars 3 It was about getting older and passing the torch down to a younger generation – especially a more diverse generation. Then came Coco, Pixar’s first film with a non-white cultural environment and now soul, Pixar’s 23rd feature film, the studio’s first feature film with a black protagonist and a predominantly black cast.