One of the great things about this era of Pixar is that they’re no longer catering their content to just kids. Sure, all their films since Toy Story have been four-quadrant endeavors. If you remotely have an imagination and appreciation for good stories, all their offerings are bangs for your buck. In the past few years, something started to change with these films. They became deeper and deeper as they grew bolder with their storytelling choices. The themes became darker and the subject matter explored existential questions. Much of this is in due part to Pete Doctor, director of Inside Out, Up, and last year’s Soul.
Soul was the encapsulation of all that. A wildly complex study on purpose, identity, and notions of what makes each of us whole. You know, all the kinds of ideas we’re terrified to examine as adults. But examine we did thanks to the mesmerizing pull of Soul. The movie was a hit critically, garnering numerous awards from multiple organizations, eventually winning the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature. The massive success amassed movie makes it all unsurprising that they decided further explore the Great Before in a brand new short titled 22 vs. Earth.
Directed by one of Pete Doctor‘s main collaborators, award-winning editor Kevin Nolting, 22 vs. Earth is a mini-examination of one of Soul’s main characters, 22, voiced by Tina Fey. We last saw 22 in the emotional ending of the film. She finds her elusive purpose after eons of waiting and makes her way to Earth, all thanks to her friendship with Joe Gardner. However, things are very different for 22 in this prequel. I’d argue even worse than when we meet her in Soul. She’s deeply bitter at all the souls finding their purpose like it’s no big deal. While that bitterness manifests in silly gags, her isolation is felt strongly here.
The short film almost feels like a deleted scene in many ways, which is unsurprising given how they tried working in the short film’s premise in the development process of Soul. While the short film could have functionally existed in the final cut of the film, it being a short film makes it work regardless.
But if there’s anything that 22 vs. Earth does better than Soul, it’s definitely the cute factor. I cannot stress how adorable the ensemble cast of souls they put together in this short. They all have adorable names (Macaroni is mine and will be everyone else’s favorite, no doubt) and wear domino masks to boot. 22 forms a coalition with them to stop souls from reaching Earth, dubbed as A.P.O.C.A.L.Y.P.S.E. which might give S.H.I.E.L.D. a run for its money as far as abbreviated organizations go. Their plan, of course, goes sideways in the most adorable ways possible.
22 vs. Earth doesn’t have the full emotional heft of Soul and I think that’s fine. This short film isn’t trying to replicate the tear-jerking moments of the film nor is it trying to explore the complexities and nuances of human identity. What it is: a charming vignette of what 22’s day-to-day life was like in the Great Before. We learn right away that she used to spend her days hatching adorable plans to stop fellow souls from finding their purpose. But despite the short film is a mostly cute affair, there is somewhat of an underlying emotion to the whole thing. A sadness that drives 22 to scheme as she does. She’s lonely and just wants to find someone lost like her. However, knowing 22’s eventual fate makes this period more striking.
All in all, 22 vs. Earth does the job of telling the untold tale of 22’s origin. It’s concise, charming, and most importantly, fun. Seeing all these characters, new and old (the soul councilors are here!), makes me wish there was a sequel in the works. But even if there never will be, this short film fills that void nicely.