Pixar Animation Studios
“Soul” honestly caught me off guard when I first watched it. I hadn’t even planned on seeing it. From the few trailers I’d seen, it looked like a knock-off “Inside Out.” “Inside Out’s” deep and meaningful take on emotions was extremely popular, so naturally, I thought Disney was trying to hop on the train of popularity and get another movie out during the pandemic. A strong example of this is the completely unnecessary amount of “Despicable Me” movies. The only reason I ended up watching “Soul” was my little sister picked it out to watch for her birthday. The whole family ended up in tears, but I am so glad she picked it.
“Soul” tries to tackle the ever allusive meaning of life with our main character, Joe Gardner (Voiced by Jamie Foxx), a middle school band teacher with big dreams of becoming a famous jazz musician. For his whole life, Joe has been trying and waiting for his big break, and just when he finally has a chance, disaster strikes. In his excitement, Joe accidentally falls down a manhole and dies. He wakes up and realizes he’s heading for the Great Beyond. In a panic, he throws himself off the edge instead and ends up in the Great Before, a place where souls are created and sent to earth. There, celestial beings, all who go by the name Jerry, help souls find their personality and their “spark.”
It is no surprise how much the Great Before is reminiscent of “Inside Out,” but it feels less like a copy than an extension of that universe. Joe ends up meeting Soul 22 (voiced by Tina Fey), a soul that wants nothing to do with being alive. Every soul gets a personality and needs to find its spark before being able to go to earth. There is an agreement reached, by which Joe will help Soul 22 find their “spark,” and he will use their Earth pass, the thing that lets souls travel to earth to be born, to get back to his body. That way, Soul 22 doesn’t have to live on Earth and Joe doesn’t have to die. Meanwhile, a celestial accountant named Terry has noticed that the soul count for the Great Beyond is off and is determined to bring the missing soul back.
“Soul” puts an emphasis on interpersonal relationships as well as the little things that make life worth living. As Soul 22 and Joe’s adventure continues, Joe looks at his life from the “outside in” perspective and sees things that he missed or took for granted. Many movies with a message about the meaning of life always leave me feeling bad about my own life. I am not going on great adventures or changing the world, so does that mean my life is meaningless? “Soul’s” message is different, saying instead that every life has inherent value. Life is important because you are in it. The setting sun in your window, or the ocean waves lapping at your feet, or going out to watch fireworks late at night: little moments in everyday life that seem normal are moments that make life matter. Seeing Joe reflect on the small moments in his life makes your breath catch because of its honesty.
Joe explores different relationships around him and realizes in many ways he’s pushed them aside for his dream. In the end, he wonders why the moment he had dreamed of for years isn’t what he thought it would be. It makes you want to take a look at yourself and ask if you are appreciating the people around you. There was one particular moment that hit me hard. I felt as if the movie was speaking about my feelings, especially in relation to life. So many of the strong moments and messages are common feelings that many times aren’t addressed in movies. The emotional resonance in these moments is what makes this movie phenomenal.
Shifting a bit, the way that the movie handled the idea of passion, related to Joe’s love of jazz, was interesting and refreshing. It was made clear that there is a fine line between passion and obsession. How something you are passionate about can uplift you and be a great joy and how that joy can warp and become harmful, keeping you from experiencing everything else life has to offer. Joe’s love for jazz was the only thing that drove him for most of his life and he came to realize he missed out on many things. It was also nice to hear real jazz and the surrounding culture in the movie.
Overall, the message “Your life matters because life has you in it” is such a needed message right now. I know a lot of people, myself included, feel like they are just treading water. Doing nothing while life passes them by. Seeing a movie that tells its viewers that the end goal isn’t all that makes life worth living, it’s the spaces in between. It was a goofy movie with very deep and moving messages I would recommend. It is an emotional hit that makes the future seem a little easier.