Pixar's Soul Is a Tearjerker That Will Make You Rethink Your Purpose in Life
What makes you happy does not necessarily define your purpose. Disney and Pixar’s latest animated film Soul is a dissection of the meaning of life. It will be available in theaters on December 25 in participating cinemas.
Joe Gardner (voiced by Jamie Foxx) is a miserable musician whose life’s dream is to make it big on the jazz scene of Queens, New York. When he finally gets his big break with a chance to perform with jazz icon Dorothea Williams (Angela Basset), he falls into a manhole and dies. He wanders through the afterlife trying to find a way back so he could make a mark in his life.
Like all Pixar films, Soul is a visual masterpiece: There were 208 adult crowds characters, 16 teenagers and four kids. Approximately 600 different garments were created and used in more than 100 unique combinations in the film. And just because it can, Pixar showed off its CGI mastery with the incredible detail on the threadwork of Joe’s wardrobe.
But underneath the visual details is a meditation on humanism and existence. The film does not preach about the meaning of life, but asks you whether you are living enough. If you knew when you would die, how would you want to spend your life?
Interspersed with Soul’s existential plot are these funny scenes about the netherworlds. In the Great Beyond, souls (which resemble blobs of ectoplasms) slowly ascend into the light, which absorbs them with a comical “zap!” similar to the sound your insect zapper makes when it electrocutes a fly.
Another realm explored in Soul is the Great Before, the birthplace of souls. Here, souls are given numerical names and are assigned their earthly characteristics (moody, sarcastic, passive-aggressive) before they are sent to the Place of Everything to gain their “spark”—their passion, talent, or defining attribute.
Thanks to a bureaucratic lapse of the afterlife, Joe is assigned to mentor Soul Number 22 (Tina Fey), who has been in the Great Before for thousands of years, unable to find his spark. Soul 22 has absolutely no intention of being born on earth, and has terrorized past mentors Carl Jung, Gandhi, Muhammad Ali, Abraham Lincoln, and even Mother Teresa (who we see cussing in frustration), unable to help him find his spark.
Soul was not created for kids. It has mature thematic elements and strong language. Even its jazz-infused musical score lacks that characteristic feel of Disney songs designed to make your kids play it on repeat (as in Frozen’s “Let It Go”). Just like in Toy Story 3 and 4, Pixar created Soul for Millennials—an ageing audience who found love with Pixar 25 years ago. It is a love letter to their generation reminding them that no matter how meaningless you might feel, your life has purpose and can be found in the people around you.