New Yorker review of “Soul”: why I’m not renewing my subscription

January 27, 2021 • 1:45 pm

The New Yorker gets woker and woker, and it’s reached the point where I will not renew my subscription. It’s not the magazine’s ubiquitous emphasis on race, or that race manages to seep into articles about other stuff (as it does in the New York Times), but that the issue is treated as if there’s only one acceptable point of view about race, and one acceptable way of portraying it.

And that, at least, is the take of Namwali Serpell, a Zambian critic who works in the U.S.; she’s a Ph.D. from Harvard and now a Professor of English at that school.  When I read her highly critical review of the new Pixar movie “Soul” in the online New Yorker, which took out after the movie because it didn’t accurately reflect the black experience (indeed, Serpell argues that it’s a “white savior movie”), I didn’t know what to think. I knew the movie had done very well, that my friends who had seen it with their kids loved it, and that it received a terrific critics’ rating on Rotten Tomatoes (see below): 96%. Was it really as racially insensitive, or racially patronizing, as Serpell asserts?

Well, I figured I couldn’t judge the review unless I had seen the movie, so I watched it. And I’m glad I did. It’s just as good as the critics make out. In fact, it’s both visually and emotionally rich—almost too rich and subtle for young children.  The thesis—that when you walk a mile in another person’s shoes, or in a cat’s paws, you can re-evaluate the meaning of your own life—is a heavy one, and it’s portrayed in an artistically masterful way. The final moral is “live life to the fullest” but that sounds way too trite for such a complex film. You have to go through the journey of the movie to see how the protagonist realizes this. He’s a black jazz musician named Joe Gardner, teaching school band but aspiring to high-class, on-stage performance. Through a quasi-mystical experience involving soul transference, Joe comes to regard his frustrations with more equanimity, and to smell the roses. One of my friend’s daughters, only nine, realized that his was the movie’s point, loved it, and then cried.

I’ll let you get an idea of what the movie’s like from its trailers. Here’s one official trailer, and there’s an alternative “official” trailer here.

It’s hard to evaluate Serpell’s critique on its own, so see the movie if you can: you should anyway. The one good part about Serpell’s piece is that her summary of the plot is pretty good. You can read her article by clicking on the screenshot.

The filmmakers took a lot of trouble to make sure the movie wasn’t racially insensitive, and reflected in part the experience of African-Americans. Here’s part of the Wikipedia article:

Pixar chose to portray the film’s main character as a musician, because they wanted a “profession the audience could root for”, and settled for a musician after trying for a scientist, which “[didn’t feel] so naturally pure as a musician’s life”. Docter [the co-director] described Soul as “an exploration of, where should your focus be? What are the things that, at the end of the day, are really going to be the important things that you look back on and go, ‘I spent a worthy amount of my limited time on Earth worrying or focused on that’?”

Docter and Jones [co-writer] worked on the development of the main character for about two years. According to Docter, once they settled on the main character being a jazz musician, the filmmakers chose to make the character African-American, as they felt it made sense due to how closely African-Americans have been tied to jazz history. [Kemp] Powers originally joined as co-writer early in development to help write the character of Joe, and was initially given a 12-week contract, which was then extended. He was subsequently promoted to co-director after his extensive contributions to the film, making him Pixar’s first African-American co-director. Powers based several elements of Joe on his personal life, as the character’s story shared several elements with Powers’ own, but also wanted him to “transcend [his] own experience” in order to make the character more accessible. Powers also placed additional emphasis on authentically depicting the black community as well as Joe’s relationships with them. In order to portray accurately African-American culture within the film, Pixar created an internal culture trust composed of black Pixar employees, and hired several consultants, among whom were musicians Herbie Hancock, Terri Lyne Carrington, Quincy Jones and Jon Batiste, educator Johnnetta Cole, and stars Questlove and Daveed Diggs. The filmmakers worked closely with them through the film’s development.

The idea for the therapy cat and Joe landing inside its body came from Jones. Docter and Powers appreciated the idea, as it offered the filmmakers a much needed way for Joe to “be able to look at his own life from a different perspective” and appreciate it.

and this. . .

Soul is Pixar’s first film to feature an African-American protagonist. Pixar was mindful of the history of racist imagery in animation, and set out to create characters who were recognizably black while avoiding the stereotypes in old cartoons. Acknowledging this effort, Docter stated that “There’s a long and painful history of caricatured racist design tropes that were used to mock African-Americans.” According to Powers, the animators used lighting as a way to highlight the ethnic diversity in the living world. Pixar sought to capture the fine details of these black characters, including the textures of black hair and the way light plays on various tones of black skin. Cinematographer Bradford Young worked as a lighting consultant on the film.

Animators used footage of several music performers, including jazz composer Jon Batiste, performing as reference for the film’s musical sequences. By capturing MIDI data from the sessions, animators were able to retrace the exact key being played on the piano with each note and create the performances authentically. According to Docter, the animators assigned to specific musical instruments often either had experience playing them or a great appreciation for them.

The filmmakers animated the souls featured in the film in a “vaporous”, “ethereal”, and “non physical” way, having based their designs on definitions about souls given to them by various religious and cultural representatives. At the same time, they did not want the souls to look overly similar to ghosts, and adjusted their color palette accordingly. Docter described the design as “a huge challenge”, as the animators are “used to toys, cars, things that are much more substantial and easily referenced”, though he felt the animation team “really put some cool stuff together that’s really indicative of those words but also relatable”. According to Murray, several artists helped create the souls’ designs by giving their suggestions and opinions on how they should look. The designs were also inspired by early drawings made by Docter. Animators created two designs for the souls in the film; one for the new souls in “The Great Before”, which animation supervisor Jude Brownbill described as “very cute, very appealing, with simple, rounded shapes and no distinguishing features just yet”, and one for mentor souls, which do feature distinctive characteristics due to having been on Earth already.

Despite the fact that the movie, whose protagonist is a black jazz musician, which was co-directed and co-written by an African-American (Kemp Powers), is voiced by a largely black cast (Jamie Foxx as Joe, also with Phylicia Rashad and Angela Bassett), and involved all this research, Professor Serpell’s beef is that the movie isn’t black enough. In fact, I conclude from reading her piece is that it’s not sufficiently infused with stereotypes of blacks and black culture. Of course there’s black culture in the movie and in real life, but African-Americans aren’t homogeneous, and one gets the feeling—or at least I did—that when I finished the movie I had seen a portrayal of a human, not a black human—someone I could identify with, which is the point of much great art.  And the moral, of course, is universal. The movie is meant to appeal to all people, not just African-Americans.

Well, here are a few of Serpell’s beefs (the cat, by the way, named Twenty-two for the number of its pre-life soul, is voiced by Tina Fey):

Black English says, He’s got soul. The most glaring artistic error in “Soul” is its misprision—its elision, really—of what soul means for black culture. The word is used to signify not just an individual unit but also an indivisible substrate, a communal energy, a vibe. For all of the creators’ efforts to thread the needle of racial representation, their desperate wish to be authentic without being stereotypical, “Soul” never utters a sentence like “She’s got soul,” never says “soul brother” or “soul sister” or “soul music.” Perhaps those terms are too antiquated, but there isn’t even a mention of the still popular “soul food”; the film’s universal delicacy is pepperoni pizza, not fried chicken, and we all know why.

There is pizza because much of the action takes place on the streets of New York City, and when you’re roaming those streets, the fastest thing you can get is, yes, a SLICE. That’s why the cat (now in the body of Joe) gets pizza, and likes it. You can’t get a plate of fried chicken on every New York street corner. And, by the way, there’s also a scene of Joe eating a piece of pecan pie, and that is soul food. The movie is not about James Brown; it’s about Joe Gardner, a mild-mannered schoolteacher. But if you want “soul” implicitly, well, there are the barbershop and tailor shop scenes, clearly drawn from black culture. But there’s no fried chicken. And no watermelon. In other words, not enough stereotypes. Don’t black folk like pizza?

But wait: there’s more:

As [Toni] Morrison writes in “Playing in the Dark,” the “Africanist presence” in white American cultural forms has long been “a way of contemplating chaos and civilization, desire and fear, and a mechanism for testing the problems and blessings of freedom.” So, in “Soul,” we find the soul counter hunting Joe down for messing up the count: “Gotcha!” Terry says after he lassos Joe’s soul with a set of square laser beams. A more literal net is used to try to capture Twenty-two, as well—but by then she is a Lost Soul, trapped inside a leaden, soot-black body. Whether on Earth or in the heavens, whiteness is ethereal, mindful; blackness is heavy, obsessive. Whiteness knows that the point of subway grilles is to lie on them and let the train’s wind rush up through you. Only blackness would be paranoid about the risks of such public whimsy. You might think that this is all leading to some Obamian synthesis of the two spirits. But surprise, surprise: Joe must sacrifice himself, must give up a life of jazz so that Twenty-two has a chance to “jazz” her life.

“Whiteness knows”? What the deuce does this mean? First of all, Joe doesn’t give up a life of jazz; the ending of the movie is ambiguous, and deliberately so. You don’t know whether Joe will resume teaching band, will go for the Big Jazz Quartet that wants him, or whatever; but we do know he’s going to savor what remains of his life. As for lying on subway grilles and enjoying the wind, I didn’t know that was a White Thing, and that black people are supposed to be fearful of it.

The review goes on like this, and you can read for yourself. Still, only a Pecksniffian Harvard professor could write stuff like this:

The most striking glimpse of Morrison’s “Africanist presence” in this film is its most seemingly subconscious. Shortly after the barbershop scene, Terry, the soul counter who is hunting for Joe, captures the wrong black man. Paul, Joe’s hater, is accidentally riven from his body and his soul is flung, for a moment, into a depthless outer space that looks like nothing so much as “the sunken place” in Jordan Peele’s “Get Out.” When Terry realizes his error, he brings Paul back into his body, and, with a dismissive “No harm, no foul,” leaves the poor man in an alley, crouched in a ball, shaking, eyes wide with horror. The film has already been playing obliquely with the idea of a Du Boisian double consciousness: Joe’s soul watching his own body taken over by Twenty-two, racial identity doubled within one entity. But this moment dabbles with the souls of black folk without truly reckoning with the kind of perversion that would rend personhood from human flesh. For a split second, the film cracks, yawns open, and shows us what it’s been working so hard to conceal: the limbo of black existence, the history of the slaveship hold, the terror of death at the hand of a mistaken cop.

Watch the movie, and see if you don’t thinks this is pure bullpucky. A customer makes fun of Joe (or rather, the cat inside Joe’s body), and is inadvertently given his due by being taken for the wrong person by the soul-hunter. The last three sentences are ridiculous: this scene is not about the limbo of black existence, or slavery, or George Floyd, or anything but the plot of bringing Joe’s soul into tally with the number of souls totted up by the Head Soul Counter.  Again, only a Harvard professor could make this scene into a metaphor for slavery and the Middle Passage. See for yourself. If the movie really was trying to conceal the real nature of black existence and tout whiteness, I think the writer and the African-American vetters would have sensed it.  Even the whiteness of heaven (departed souls take a long escalator through space up to the light) is taken to symbolize racism (the author uses the color trope repeatedly throughout her review):

One of the strangest aspects of the film is that, while Joe has a mother, a muted love interest, sweet and lazy students, and acquaintances at the barbershop, he doesn’t really have people. His epiphany, conjoined with Twenty-two’s, is a solitary one: the seed in the palm, an individual’s communion with vast nature. Similarly, each departed soul, once freed from its earthly body, shoots alone into a blur of blinding whiteness. In black American culture, a funeral is called a homegoing, partly owing to a syncretic conflation of the afterlife with Africa, the originary freedom. To cross over is to cross back, over the sea—which, by the way, is likely the origin of the English word soul, from the Proto-Germanic saiwaz, the idea being that water, not air, is the dwelling place of souls. And at the end of that voyage home there isn’t a spark of bright light but your people, welcoming you ashore.

Oy! Well, this is the typical grandiose and pompous New Yorker ending, where even the quotidian must be couched in hifalutin scholarship and reams of purple prose.

In fact, Joe does have people: his students, one of whom loves him, his mother and her friends, one of whom demands a kiss from Joe when she sees him, and a girlfriend who doesn’t appear.  One cannot expect Joe to embody every aspect of what Serpell sees as black culture, which in this case is apparently deeply social. Are there no solitary black men in this country?  And is it a flaw that pre-life souls float down to earth through space (which happens to be dark) to fuse with their bodies, and that the departed souls take a Big Escalator to the Sky? Does there have to be water and gatherings?

In the end, even the black critics (save one) liked “Soul”, as you can see by clicking on the screenshot.

 

 

As for the New Yorker, I’ve had it. When a movie is dissed because it doesn’t have enough stereotypical black culture, because it isn’t fundamentally about blackness instead of humanity, when it doesn’t sufficiently emphasize the “nuances of the black experience”—as if every black person has the same nuances—and when it spurns the overarching point of the movie, which is to show the commonality of people rather than their differences, then I’m done. This movie was not made to impart lessons about racism; it was made to show people of all races to embrace the good things of life, for before you know it your own soul will be ascending that Big Escalator.

A captious Harvard professor can take the movie apart, but you be the judge, and if you’ve seen it, weigh in below. The fact is that not everything is or should be about race and racism, even if it involves a black jazz musician starring in an animated movie. Nor should it be. The New Yorker apparently feels otherwise.

59 thoughts on “New Yorker review of “Soul”: why I’m not renewing my subscription

  1. Looks like she’s just looking for offence but I had avoided the movie because the concept of souls bothers me because it’s false and I thought it would be all about the afterlife or something but now I want to watch it!

    1. You should; the souls are of course conceits, but mostly it’s about the here and now, and the before-life stuff is entrancing: a tour de force of animation. Don’t think about religion when you watch it; there’s no explicit mention of it in the movie.

      1. I’m curious if you have any thoughts about this critique that sees a dualistic perspective in the film. I’ve been on the fence about seeing this film because of this….

      2. Also, the trailer shows him putting a pizza slice in his mouth and it pooping out because they can’t taste as souls which is pretty funny so it’s worth watching for that. 😀

      3. Hell’s bells, there’re a couple Jimmy Stewart movies I’ve always enjoyed despite one having an invisible guardian angel named Clarence, the other an invisible rabbit named Harvey.

    2. That was what I thought… by the way you ought to put a Spoiler Alert on Jerry – I think you give too much away!!

      I will not see it as we have lockdown & no cinemas open. Maybe will watch one day on digital versatile disc…

      1. You can see it on Disney+ if you can get it. We are locked down here too and I wouldn’t want to go into some covid infested theatre anyway. 🙂

        1. And after watching it on Disney+, you can have fun wasting hours watching The Mandalorian…it’s really a great production if you’re into Star Wars, and that baby yoda is irresistible.

  2. A comment piece in The Guardian the other day managed to hate Soul because of one exchange of dialogue that the author took as an insult to white middle-aged women along the lines of the “Karen” meme :

    Soul 22 is voiced by Tina Fey and, understandably, given she’s yet to be born, Joe asks, “Why do you sound like a middle-aged white woman?”

    “I just use this voice because it annoys people,” 22 replies.

    “It’s very effective,” says Joe.

    Many of the comments below the line disagreed with the author’s take on the matter. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2021/jan/23/mother-in-law-jokes-a-thing-of-the-past-not-at-pixar-soul-hadley-freeman

    For what it’s worth, the paper’s actual review of the movie was much more positive: https://www.theguardian.com/film/2020/dec/27/soul-review-fantasia-meets-a-matter-of-life-or-death

  3. I loved the movie, too. I’m surprised that you would say in response to the publication of this review, though, that you plan to stop reading The New Yorker altogether. It’s a fascinating magazine, in my opinion, and you seem to be engaging in the same sort of cancel culture action that you deride in others when you announce you are going to stop subscribing. Talk about babies and bathwater!

    1. No, I’ve subscribed and unsubscribed over the years. But the magazine has changed, and it no longer interests me the way it used to. This was simply the last straw in a monthslong process of being disappointed.

      Cancel culture? Seriously, when I am simply not renewing my subscription because I don’t like the magazine’s direction (I used to find it “fascinating”, but no more)?

      Thanks for calling me a hypocrite on such flimsy grounds, though, which is uncalled for. I don’t like the baby OR the bathwater.

    2. The magazine is a far, far cry from what it was fifty years ago, when every issue had something that demanded to be read. The pioneering articles on the epidemiology of asbestos-based cancers, popular warnings about dioxin, Jonathan Schell’s all-too-sobering _The_Fate_of_the_Earth_ and many other pieces of scientific investigative journalism and cultural criticism appeared in the NYer. The quality went off the edge of the cliff during Tina Brown’s editorship, which mostly saw the broad and deep critical journalism it had practiced replaced by pretentious puff pieces—People Magazine pretending it had gone to Phillips Exeter. I dropped it then and never went back, but my impression is that it got way *worse* in the two decades following Brown’s departure, something I wouldn’t have thought possible.

  4. It’s a movie FFS. A fiction. And it sounds like an excellent one. Her real beef is probably “cultural appropriation”: There were some white people involved in the production of the movie. Bad!

    1. Critics might as well just come out and complain that it was animation and also intended to appeal to children.
      ‘Couldn’t make an movie for adults? So you had to dumb it down? Didn’t want to hire and pay live black actors? How many of the illustrators were white?

      There can always be “woker.”

  5. The older cartoon movies seemed to always use stereotypes (same with novels and other forms). Not just with regard to race, but with almost every characterization. It’s clearly something people respond to, or the endless tropes wouldn’t be used so widely. People enjoy seeing stereotypes reinforced. I think it makes us feel secure in our understanding of how the world works. Those movies are often caricatures of human life and human foibles, whether the characters are dogs or fish. So, it is encouraging to see stereotypes reduced as here. It requires more of the creators and the audience. I’ll probably wait ’till my library has a copy to see it.

    1. It’s the existence of such tropes that makes their subversion aesthetically interesting — much the same way that the fourth note in the first bar of Beethoven’s Fifth is interesting only because of the three that precede it.

    2. Wait, you’re saying fictional characters are often caricatures?

      And that cartoons/animated films have more caricatures than live/acted ones?

      I am shocked. Shocked I tell you!

      😉

  6. “Of course there’s black culture in the movie and in real life, but African-Americans aren’t homogeneous, and one gets the feeling—or at least I did—that when I finished the movie I had seen a portrayal of a human, not a black human—someone I could identify with, which is the point of much great art.  And the moral, of course, is universal. The movie is meant to appeal to all people, not just African-Americans.” – J. Coyne

    That’s not how the Woke see things. As Pluckrose&Lindsay explain in their book, the Woke’s postmodernist stance is characterized by “the loss of the individual and the universal”. That is, both individuality within social groups and humanity as a whole are neglected by them.

    “The postmodern view largely rejects both the smallest unit of society—the individual—and the largest—humanity—and instead focuses on small, local groups as the producers of knowledge, values, and discourses. Therefore, postmodernism focuses on sets of people who are understood to be positioned in the same way—by race, sex, or class, for example—and have the same experiences and perceptions due to this positioning.”

    (Pluckrose, Helen, and James Lindsay. Cynical Theories: How Activist Scholarship Made Everything about Race, Gender, and Identity; and Why This Harms Everybody. Durham, NC: Pitchstone, 2020. p. 42)

  7. Re subway grilles; when I lived in New York (long ago, in the ‘80’s), it wasn’t a White or Black thing to lie on the grates, it was a Homeless Person thing, because the up rushing air is quite warm, nice in the cold evening. Just seems very weird thing to me that it is an act of “public whimsy.”

    1. And you never know when you might get a glimpse of Marilyn Monroe in a flouncy dress catching a refreshing breeze.

  8. “misprision” wow – cool word – but I’ll have to write down the definition.

    As for Soul, I wasn’t interested before but now I want to see it! The piano key animation and ray tracing sounds mesmerizing – I wonder if dark skin is more difficult than, say, a pale Elsa skin.

  9. This just goes to show that there are still plenty of professional race-baiters running around loose. They’ve just switched teams for a better payoff.

  10. A couple of thoughts, having watched “Soul” a few weeks ago.

    The jazz in the movie is terrific! The dedication to the calling of music is inspiring. It is shown by not only the protagonist, but also by the bandleader (a real stern woman, who I thought was a great character) and by Joe’s talented trombonist student. Jon Batiste’s cover of Curtis Mayfield’s “It’s All Right” at the end of the movie was fantastic. I thought they did a great job in this area.

    The whole soul thing is inoffensive, if a bit weird and confusing, at least to me.

    In summary, a good movie for Pixar (not my favorite movie-making house), and the animation techniques have improved tremendously.

    Here’s my take on this person’s take:

    I just read an article about a gamer’s perspective on Qanon. (Didn’t expect that, did you?) This person suggests that in certain types of online/video games that revolve around clues that need to be investigated, there is a recurring problem with apophenia. People playing these games, looking for clues, find inadvertent red herrings that they then pursue relentlessly, not knowing this is not the actual clue. The author of this piece applied this to Qanon, saying that is what happens there. Random juxtapositions and cryptic hints supplied by Q then become “facts” that need to be pursued to their logical conclusion (e.g., Pizzagate).

    My suggestion is that the author of this New Yorker article may be doing the same thing here. She sees certain “clues” in the movie, such as “pizza” and then ferrets out its deeper meaning. In other words, there’s a lot of confirmation bias and other mind tricks going on here. Maybe a worthwhile question if one could ask it might be: what would have satisfied you? And don’t say “the inclusion of fried chicken,” for example, as that could very easily be construed as racist.

    1. When in high school I had an English teacher who would try to teach us to see things like that in books that we read. So when we read Grapes of Wrath we were to find and report on its hidden deeper symbolisms. Symbolisms in a characters’ name, or in something that was said and find how they relate to current events. We accepted that as the way to read books. But then years later I related this to a real literature buff, and they just gawked at me, laughed, and said that is a real pointless thing to do. Just read the book and enjoy it.

    2. Maybe a worthwhile question if one could ask it might be: what would have satisfied you?

      Betting nothing would. They point out the problems, everybody should just fix them. And do keep checking in, because whatever you do will have be too little, too late.

  11. Honestly, it must suck to be super woke. Soul was quite good, with a nice shot of depth and heart. To be so stuck in a constant state of high alert, always on the hunt for the slightest shreds of offensive or impropriety, that you can’t enjoy a nice movie must be awful.

    That sort of thing used to be the nearly exclusive province of people constitutionally averse to enjoying life—stuffy Christian fundamentalists and their ilk. I guess a subset 21st century liberals wanted to get in on all that tedious action and dedicate their lives to sanctimonious outrage over trivial nonsense.

    1. Yeah, my first thought whenever I hear this sort of thing is that I’m glad I don’t have to live inside some people’s heads. It really must suck to be there.

    2. Good points, I agree and miss the mindless enjoyment of movies, but that was also when I was apart of the religious community. Funny, now that I’m not, raising non religious children who are easily misinformed I try to watch movies that are open to ideas, (even animated)
      and not trying to convert them any particular way. They hear enough from friends and I’m always left helping reassure them its ok to think differently, that many brilliant people do. I look forward to watching this with them.

    3. PIcking apart things that you didn’t do the work on, can be very fun and satisfying. And you get to be part of a righteous community. What’s not to like?

  12. “Perhaps those terms are too antiquated, but there isn’t even a mention of the still popular ‘soul food’; the film’s universal delicacy is pepperoni pizza, not fried chicken, and we all know why.”

    I have absolutely zero doubt that, if the protagonist had actually been shown eating fried chicken, the author would have used that in her critique as an example of a racially insensitive stereotype. The sentence above couldn’t be a more perfect example of the Woke’s damned-if-you-do/damned-if-you-don’t thinking, and their eternal struggle to find offense and “harm” in everything.

  13. I’ve seen Soul, and I loved it. It was beautiful, both visually and emotionally. The scene in which Joe plays the piano while scenes from his life flash before his eyes was especially poignant.

    Honestly, there’s just no pleasing some of the Woke. The reviewer kvetches about Joe eating pizza rather than fried chicken. I’m willing to bet money that if Joe had been portrayed eating fried chicken, critics would have torn into the movie for “reinforcing racist stereotypes.” Likewise, based on some of the woke commentary I’ve read, if a white character in a movie/show/novel helps or teaches a black character, that’s the “white savior” trope, which is racist. But if a black character helps or teaches a white character, that’s the “magic N****” trope, which is also racist. /eyeroll

  14. Tedious.

    I went to film school (to make films!) and some courses involved reading lots of film criticism, semiotics etc.

    It cured me of wanting to read much more film criticism in my life. I find when I’m reading most “intellectual” discourses on a film I’m learning far more about the writer, seeing things in to the film, than the film itself.

    Adding Offense Culture in to the mix can only make it more insufferable.

    1. I’ve always likened art criticism to theology. They themselves are also forms of art. The art of stringing together tortuous phrases, aiming for the highest sophistication, using as many words as possible while striving for the lowest possible information content / word count ratio possible.

  15. Although religion perhaps takes a back seat in this movie, it certainly reinforces common religious themes of a heaven, souls, and such. There’s even a hell of sorts with the lost souls. IMHO, it’s more non-denominational than non-religious. There’s definitely no proselytizing.

    I didn’t like the movie that much. It seemed kind of trite and obvious. Still, it was amusing.

    1. I’m waiting for the religious zealots to get into the fray. After all, everyone knows that animals don’t have souls. The movie is clearly blasphemous.

  16. Re: movie. My kid saw it and liked it; I will probably wait for it to come out on TV or netflix.

    Re: Dr. Serpell’s review…sounds like she’s gunning for the Mick LaSalle “most useful movie critic” award. Whatever she hates, go see…whatever she likes, avoid. You can’t go wrong reading old Mick, he’s a great guide for movies. Just not in the way he thinks.

  17. So now you might want to try out other Pixar movies. They are not all great. But many of them fairly astonish me. I generally need a hankie. Toy Story 2 (the first is also good, but #2 is better). Brave, Inside Out, and Up. All go along and are entertaining and funny, but then come various special moments where they simply … startle the adult.

    1. No matter how much I try to suppress it, I can’t watch the opening scene of Up without crying just a bit. I know it’s coming, but it still gets me every time. Truly brilliant.

    2. Yep. Another good one is Dreamworks. I never bothered to watch these new generation (to me) animated films, until my kids took me to se How To Train Your Dragon. I was startled at how good it was and how there were levels of sophistication for both children and adults.

  18. ‘Pixar chose to portray the film’s main character as a musician, because they wanted a “profession the audience could root for”, and settled for a musician after trying for a scientist, which “[didn’t feel] so naturally pure as a musician’s life”.’

    Someone (a scientist) who purely studies nature is apparently not sufficiently naturally pure.

    Perhaps a few years hence, when the Covid pandemic will presumably be waning, audiences will be slightly more inclined to “root” for the STEM-trained Ph.D.’s who have done the intellectual heavy lifting yielding the Covid and other life-saving vaccines and treatments and other technological benefits of modern life.

    Perhaps a “Soul II” may feature a principal character of the likes of George Carruthers:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/23/science/space/george-carruthers-dead.html?searchResultPosition=1

  19. One possible consequence of this endless need to find offense is that the entertainment industry may end up just finding it easier to stick to white characters and “stories”, at least for areas deemed “sensitive”. After all, us white folk don’t give one wit how we are portrayed for the most part, which provides for much more creative license. Ultimately all this criticism results in narrowing the boundaries of creative expression… characters MUST be portrayed this way or that, or else your going to get reviewed negatively. I’m sure this dynamic is already at work.

    One thing I found interesting about the movie though… it highlighted how even IF we have souls, the idea that we can freely choose and are morally responsible for our actions in some kind of “ultimate” sense is flawed. After all, are souls are “crafted” if you will, and much of our personality, inclinations, etc… are built it! Sounds like genetics, and suggests even with souls we are not blank slates.

  20. I would say that it is not a typical “black” experience to come from Africa and end up teaching English at Harvard. So maybe her own life is of doubtful black authenticity…
    /s

    1. In the States, most black people are descended from slaves. Some prominent ones are not: Barak Obama, Kamala Harris (each only half black, though I understand the point that, in practice, they are treated black).

    1. I’ve mentioned this to our host a couple of weeks ago but have seen it recur more recently. It always seems to correct itself in a few hours. It might be a WordPress process that doesn’t run often enough though that’s kind of surprising.

  21. It has long been the practice of critics who, when writing a review of a book or film, attack the artist for not writing what the critic thinks she should have written. This pre dates racial wokeness by decades. It was the left, not blacks, who perfected this manner of criticism and it is deplorable. Who cares what a critic wants? Her job is to judge whether the work in question succeeded, or to what degree if failed. Failing politically is an absurd notion in the realm of arts, even though it was of prime importance in the 1930s in the Soviet Union where socialist realism dominated and abstraction
    was condemned. This is of course what is going on today and it is now impossible for a critic to
    judge a work of art using artistic criteria rather than political. In effect the woke army is now the new Stalinism, determined to purge LITERALLY anything that does not conform to a priori political and social criteria laid down by a particular ideology. If the public doesnt wake up to the total cancellation of individual artistry, we will wake up to find ourselves bound to arbitrary authoritarianism, not a culture that welcomes and encourages artists of all kinds. Thank goddess for Helen Pluckrose and her comrades, and all those who are defending true artistic freedom.

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