Pixar’s Soul and its philosophy

Gigi Corrales, A&E Staffer

Pixar’s latest release feels like a wave of bliss rushing over you, offering a refreshing outlook on living, sending ripples of change through the viewer’s own life. With much of Disney’s catalog being lighthearted, Soul (2020) may be one of the most mature films the studio has to offer. From the score, the subject matter and the animation, this movie is the ultimate comfort movie. Pixar’s Soul follows a middle school band teacher named Joe Gardner, played by Jamie Foxx, who is dissatisfied with the small classroom and is yearning for a chance to play jazz on the big stage. Just as Joe is offered a permanent position at the school he gets a call from a former student, giving him the opportunity to play with one of his long time idols, Dorthea Williams, voiced by Angela Bassett, reawakening his passion and thirst for success. Just as soon as Joe is about to get his big break, he falls into a sewer hole, plunging him to this space in-between life and death. There Joe meets a soul, named 22, voiced by Tina Fey, and together they embark on this journey of coming to terms with life with all its blunders and all of its marvels, and with death. 

Culturally we tend to think of life as all of the major things that happen, but the essence of this movie is the complete antithesis to this point of view. It looks at life as a collection of precious moments, such as the movie’s representation of life as a miscellanea of a half-eaten bagel, a wing, a lollipop, thread and other small artifacts collected throughout the day. This movie is like a love letter to the little things in life. 

One scene in particular that can express this is when Joe goes to the barbershop to receive a haircut. This scene occurs after 22 and Joe switches bodies which allows Joe an outside perspective on his life. 22 is experiencing life for the first time so she has this childlike essence, asking for a lollipop and asking questions about everything. 22 ends up asking the barber about why he became a barber in the first place and Joe ends up learning more about him than he ever had before. 

This scene is so important because asking base-level questions has become so ingrained in today’s society. Asking “How was your day ” and replying “good” has become a default automatic exchange in social situations. Asking questions can help build stronger relationships and stimulate understanding. The barber also speaks about his career not amounting to his previous dreams but is still content with where his life ended up. Joe’s journey is this acceptance of the change. 

Too often are we fixated on the future and when we fail to reach the climax it can be difficult to grapple with the fact that not all dreams come to fruition. While having goals is good it can be a slippery slope to consistently focus on the future. Often when doing so you are believing “I am not happy with the present moment since I am not living my dream.” By adopting this mindset you are downplaying the present and viewing it in a negative light. Some of the best moments could be happening right now but if your eyes are looking to the future, you may miss them. Soul views life through a lens of immense gratitude for the present and past, finding this balance that leaves room for optimism towards the future. Being an observer of your own life gives you the ability to view life from an objective standpoint, as you are not encapsulated by the worries that often fill your mind.  If the movie ended with Joe playing the gig of his life and feeling satisfied it would have left the wrong impression on the viewer that achieving your dreams will be the end-all cure to your problems and that just isn’t the case. 

Another pivotal point in the story is when Joe confesses his dissatisfaction in life to his mother who wishes for job stability in his life. 

“The scene had made me feel emotional. It reminded me of a conversation I had with my parents. I think it was put in because it is a conversation that happens with so many people. So many people struggle with receiving their parents’ approval and want to follow their dreams but don’t receive the support. It sends the message of communicating and talking things out which I think is really important. I loved the message that it’s great to have passions and dreams but the true beauty of living are the small things,” said senior Nicole Myung.

The character’s own worst enemies were themselves. For example, the character of 22 had many anxieties about not being “good enough” to live on Earth. An aspect of the movie which was off putting was the idea of the lost souls being a separate entity from those who have found their spark. Those two circumstances can be juxtaposed, as people can be doing what they love and still be at war with their inner selves. At the end the movie takes the viewer inside the monster to view this whirling cloud of all the voices of 22’s past repeating back all her insecurities and solidifying her anxieties. Our own insecurities can often disguise themselves through the tones of another’s voice since we manufacture this reality in which the people around us agree with our insecurities. We create narratives of the thoughts in other people’s heads, fictional narratives.

The contrast of the two characters allowed each this newfound perspective, one being a man who is scared to die while the other was a soul scared to live. The idea of viewing the world from a different point of view is one of the most beneficial lessons this movie has to offer. Hate stems from this love of ignorance. Viewing life through a different set of eyes and actively learning about different experiences is what stimulates understanding. This is how powerful perspective can be, and this is what Soul is all about.