DISCLAIMER: *SPOILER ALERT* (without which the article would make absolutely no sense)
It’s creative. It’s hilarious. And it’s moving. Pixar has done it again, captivating viewers and critics by this unique and fresh animation titled Soul. While many thought Soul to be the sequel of Inside Out (2015), little remained the same besides the creative Pete Docter as director and the classic hilarity and profundity that come with the Pixar package. Soul stands out as an animation for all ages and is acclaimed as perhaps “Pixar’s finest and most ambitiously existential films” (Wikipedia).
The movie begins with a middle-school music teacher Joe Gardner (voiced by Jamie Foxx) attempting to lead an unenthusiastic, naughty band in what becomes a cacophonous symphony. Instead of reprimanding them, he shares his inspiration of jazz music and the ensuing passion he had to become a professional musician. Joe’s dream is further accentuated by his hesitance to accept the full time offer given by the school, a decision, however, that his mother prompts him to make so he can receive the benefits that come from the job. Joe is then torn between following his mother or his lifelong ambition, but after receiving an offer to perform that night with Dorothea Williams, a renowned jazz saxophonist, he promptly chooses to pursue the gig, saying, “I would die a happy man if I could perform with Dorothea Williams.” Too excited to notice his surroundings as he strolls home, Joe unexpectedly steps into a pothole and falls into a coma.
Rather than finding himself at the bottom of the pit, he (now in the form of a cute blue caricature of himself) wakes up in a dark, surreal cosmos at the brink of the Great Beyond, a giant sun-like orb that represents the place souls go in the afterlife. Desperate to return to Earth, Joe flees from the Great Beyond, scampering through the masses of other souls waiting in line, and falls off the pathway. After plunging through a void, he lands in a vibrantly colored area known as the Great Before, the place where souls develop personalities before entering Earth, and assumes the role of a Mentor. The Mentor’s job is to help a soul find its “spark,” the last mark on a badge a soul earns that signifies its readiness to enter the portal ushering them into Earth. Joe immediately hatches a plan to help a soul achieve this and then snatch the soul’s Earth sticker for himself so he can arrive on time for his gig. All while this is happening, Terry, the accountant of souls, searches for the one soul (Joe Gardner) who escaped the Great Beyond and rummages through the soul archives to find who it is. Meanwhile, Joe is assigned with Soul 22, a sardonic cynic who, despite having mentors with the likes of Abraham Lincoln and Mother Theresa, can’t seem to find her spark. Having given up any hopes of living on Earth, she nonchalantly agrees to hand over her badge to Joe if they find her spark. As Joe leads 22 through a hall showing flashes of his life, he makes a profound realization: “my life was meaningless.” This compels him to genuinely help find 22’s passion so he can perform the gig of his life and fulfill his dreams.
After finding herself on Earth, 22 becomes fascinated by life: the savory taste of pizza and bagels, the jazzy melody of the trombone, the hearty conversation with the barber, the soulful voice of a busker, and the beautiful nature mesmerize her so much that she no longer wants to proceed with the soul switching. She makes a desperate attempt to flee, and while Joe the cat furiously follows, Terry, who in the meantime has been searching for them on Earth, catches them, ushering them back to the Great Before.
Upon her return, 22 realizes that she had received her spark during her duration on Earth. However, she was not the only one to learn an important lesson. Joe soon realizes that life is not defined by the grand successes or fulfilled dreams one accomplished but simply by the fact that we are alive. Life is simply too precious to get caught up with personal ambition, too precarious to live as if every day is under our control; what’s crucial is to cherish each second of it.
This new understanding prompts Joe to reevaluate his definition of a spark. For so long he had thought it to be a certain passion or purpose; that’s why he had told 22 that her spark couldn’t simply be walking or sky-watching. But after experiencing the sharp anticlimax and irking feelings of emptiness after fulfilling his dreams, he knew that life had to be much more than just a passion that can easily be quenched. Joe not only learns to sacrifice his beloved life for others but in so doing earns himself another chance at life—only this time, not so self-oriented.
Joe’s life revolved around his dream to become a jazz musician, so much that he thought he could die happy if that one dream were fulfilled. Instead, he realized that he was merely chasing a mirage, a feat that could never satisfy him, and he decided to reenter life with a fresh and pensive perspective. Though this animation was layered with slapstick and comic relief, its weighty message verdicts that a soul is special not because it can play jazzy piano like Joe Gardener or possess the clearest sense of purpose, but simply because it gets to live. A soul, we learn, is meant for living, not living for the soul. As much as we can get caught up with our passions and purposes, Soul encourages us to stop, take a moment, and meditate on whether what we’re living for is truly worth it. Maybe if we’d apply this we could cherish everyday relationships and appreciate the simple joys of nature far zestier than we do now.
Soul (2020 film). (2021, January 25). Retrieved January 27, 2021, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soul_(2020_film)
Seitz, M. (n.d.). Soul movie review & film summary (2020): Roger Ebert. Retrieved January 27, 2021, from https://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/soul-movie-review-2020
HDQWalls. (n.d.). Disney Soul Movie 4K [Digital image]. Retrieved from https://images.hdqwalls.com/wallpapers/disney-soul-movie-4k-7e.jpg