During the 93rd Academy Award edition, which was broadcast on 25 April 2021, “Soul”, a dramatic comedy produced by Studio Pixar and Disney, that explores the meaning of life, won the statuette of “best-animated film”. Directed by Pete Docter and co-directed by Kemp Powers, the film stars the voices of Jamie Foxx, Tina Fey, Graham Norton, Rachel House, Alice Braga, Angela Bassett and Richard Ayoade. The story follows a middle school music teacher named Joe Gardner, who seeks to reunite his soul and his body after they are accidentally separated, just before his big break as a jazz musician. “Soul” is the first Pixar film to feature an African-American protagonist.
The film depicts Joe Gardner, an African-American music teacher at a middle school, from Manhattan, who has a big dream: to survive through his art as a renowned jazz musician. Despite all his passion and dedication for music, he never found his big breakthrough chance. Joe does not want to live unnoticed and has a conventional job. When an audition comes up for him to play in the legendary Dorothea Williams jazz band and he finally gets his big chance, afterwards impressing her through his fantastic piano performance, to play in her concert. However, as Joe heads off, his excitement distracts him, and he falls down a manhole. With his body lying comatose in a hospital, Joe’s soul lands in a netherworld and finds himself in the “Great Beyond”.
Unwilling to die, he tries to escape but ends up in the “Great Before” — a soft, pastel-coloured purgatory., where counsellors — all named Jerry — prepare unborn souls for life with the help of mentor souls. Each soul has a badge that grants passage to Earth once it is filled out with personality traits. Mistaken for a mentor, Joe is assigned to train 22, a cynical soul who has always lived in the Great Before and desires avoiding Earth. Discovering that Joe is in a coma at a hospital, 22 agrees to let him help find her “spark” to complete her badge and then give it to him so that he can return home.
After Joe fails to find 22 a passion, they visit “the zone”, a place that souls can enter when their passions create a euphoric trance, but which can also become a trap for obsessed lost souls. They come across Moonwind, the captain of a galleon bearing a troupe of hippie mystics, who help Joe locate his body on Earth.
Joe returns to Earth but accidentally carries 22, resulting in the two souls respectively entering the bodies of a therapy cat and Joe himself. In the meantime, 22 settles into Joe’s body and enjoys small and simple moments as a human being like having pepperoni pizza and seeing the “helicopter seeds” spiralling to the ground. Meanwhile, Terry, an obsessive accountant who tallies souls headed to the Great Beyond, discovers that Joe is missing, and heads to Earth to send him to the Great Beyond and restore the count.
Terry brings Joe and 22 back to the Great Before. 22 realises her badge is filled out, yet Joe insists it was because of his traits, and that she has not truly found her spark. 22 angrily tosses the badge at him and disappears into the zone. A Jerry informs Joe that a spark is not a soul’s purpose in life, but only an indication that it is ready to live. Refusing to believe this statement, Joe uses 22’s badge to return to Earth.
The night’s show is a success, but Joe is not as satisfied as he imagined he would be and realises that his life has not significantly changed even after fulfilling his dream. Looking at objects that 22 collected while in her body, and recalling the moments they had enjoyed together, he sees that these experiences have given 22 her spark. By playing the piano, he enters the zone with the intent to return her badge of her but discovers that she has become a lost soul. He chases her down and reminds her of the time she spent on Earth, restoring her to normal. Joe returns the badge and escorts 22 out of the Great Before for her journey to Earth.
As Joe prepares to enter the Great Beyond, Jerry stops him and offers another chance at life in gratitude for finally inspiring 22 to live. Joe returns to his body on Earth and starts the next day committed to enjoying his new life chance.
Check out 6 Lessons we can learn from the film “Soul”:
1 – Life has no plot twist.
Joe spent his whole life waiting for the big moment when he was finally going to play in a prestigious jazz band, start a successful artistic career, makes his mother proud., and when it finally happened … well, it wasn’t great how he had expected it to be. That moment when all problems magically resolve themselves because you have reached your goal never comes. “Soul” can disappoint those who believe in fairy tales, because the message is clear: a happy ending just doesn’t exist.
2 – Your passion cannot be your only purpose in life.
Having a great passion is something magical, but when it becomes an obsession and you do not see the beauty in life coming from other moments, you are wasting your time on Earth. What you love to do shouldn’t stop you from loving everything else.
“Soul” goes against all self-help books and coaches that tell you to find your purpose to live your life.
3 – The validation that matters is yours.
According to the movie “Soul”, we become lost souls when we believe in the negative things that others say, that’s when our insecurities overwhelm our soul. Listening to external pressure weakens the essence of life. Not listening to our intuition is like not believing in ourselves and that interferes to make connections with ourselves.
It is only when 22 begins to believe in herself that she is ready to live.
4 – Self-knowledge changes your journey.
“Soul” is about who you are, what is our purpose in this world.
At the beginning of the film, when Joe is dying, “Pixar Disney presents” appears on the screen, but the title “Soul” only appears after the last scene when Joe understands the importance of living every minute of his life.
It is only at the end of the film that “Soul” appears on the screen because that is where your story begins after a long journey of self-knowledge changes your outlook on life.
5 – The meaning of life is in simple things.
Joe and 22 discovered that the meaning of life can be enjoying pepperoni pizza, walking, enjoying the stars, talking about something different in the barbershop, enjoying a musician on the subway. The senses are varied and change from moment to moment, it is the journey, not the imaginary finish line that matters.
In the end, Joe understood that what matters is not how successful you are in what you have done, but how much can appreciate everything you have done. To reduce life to a single meaning is to underestimate what means to be alive.
6 – Living is the art of improvisation.
“Soul”, which already has the musical pun in the title, launches the idea that life is like jazz. When 22 says she’s jazzing up, she’s discovering life’s little pleasures. Another example, Joe’s barber, jazzed and feels complete. He wanted to be something, but fund please as a barber. It’s okay to lie down, it’s okay not to have everything decided, that’s what life is for.
The essence of jazz is spontaneity, enjoying the moment without planning. This is what Joe intends to do with the second chance he won afterlife: to jazz.
Photos credits – Pixar / Disney