There’s something to be said about films made for children, notably Pixar’s. They got a soul, man.

(Sorry. I had to place the keyword in the first line somehow) 😃

When I was a kid in the 90’s, I fawned over Buzz Lightyear’s slick look without seeing the other pertinent aspects of the first two Toy Storys. Us kids can only study the “cosmetic” side of things, and I don’t mean just teenagers going through puberty. 😄

As an adult, you begin to wipe away the surface of these “kid’s” movies. You begin to appreciate Pixar and its storytelling magic.

Pixar’s Storytelling Pinanche

The first Toy Story dealt with Buzz’s identity crisis. He had a hell of a time accepting he’s not an intergalactic superhero, but a piece of plastic made in China!

The second covered Woody’s rejection of immortality and making the most of the short time he has with Andy. Immortality is an infinity of cold, pallid death. Mortality is richness concentrated in a finite timespan.

Wait … what the HELL am I doing talking about Toy Story?! This post is about Soul, dammit. 😤

Yeah, Let’s Just Get into Soul

So, a quarter-century after the original Toy Story, Pixar still has plenty of rocket fuel to burn!

To infinity and be-No. Focus, Corey. FOCUS! 😵

Promotional image for Soul (2020). Disney.

2020’s Soul has Jamie Foxx voicing Joe Gardner, a music teacher with big dreams in the jazz scene. Along the way he learns what having a soul is really about. And it ain’t music. 😏

Foxx with Soul

Coincidently, Foxx went back to his Oscar-winning days playing Ray Charles, the inventor of “soul” and pioneer of jazz. Great casting, that!

So Mr. Gardner aspires, to one day, be a legendary jazz pianist. His virtuosity brims off the keys as he passes into the spiritual world in a state called “flow” by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. (In the film’s lore, souls in a state of “flow” are in the spirit world floating in bubbles)

One day, Joe gets an offer from his superior to start working full-time as a teacher (salary, benefits, pension, and the whole shebang). Thing is, Joe is extremely hesitant about it. Working full-time would mean putting his dreams on the back burner. It means being comfortable with your life being defined by unfulfilled potential.

And that’s one torturous thought to live with, man. One. Torturous. Thought.

Dead Soul

Later that day, Joe gets a call from a former student telling him that his boss, a famous jazz musician by the name of Dorothea Williams, is looking for a new pianist. And Joe’s name was submitted for consideration! Whee!

And Joe actually impressed the famous musician with his soulful piano playing (while in “flow”). Whee!

person standing on manhole cover
Photo by Sebastiaan Stam on Pexels.com

After years of falling short, Joe finally falls … into a looong manhole. Whee…no, wait. That’s pretty dark.

Joe, sadly, is relegated to a state of purgatory. At least he is spiritwise. In the physical realm, he’s still in a coma. If his spirit surrenders to the “Great Beyond” (a blinding, consuming white light) then his physical body dies.

But Joe can’t die. Not yet, dammit. He has to live and fulfill his God-given potential and achieve ultimate enlightenment in the real world.

Fighting Soul

So, Joe escapes the Great Beyond and falls into the You Seminar (the “Great Before”) where new budding souls are given grooming and instruction before becoming new life on Earth.

There’s a catch, though. The new souls must find their “spark” (passion, what have you) before they can be born in the body of an infant.

Joe, now posing as a mentor for new souls, takes a soul named “22” under his wing (implied that she’s the 22nd soul created since the dawn of time. So we’re talking waaaay back in the Adam and Eve era). 22 has been drifting in perpetual limbo because she can’t find her “spark.”

Man, I sure hope time passes quickly in the You Seminar.

Helping Soul

Anyway, some shenanigans happen that were supposed to be constructive. Joe was supposed to guide 22 through a plethora of hobbies and fun stuff. But 22 just can’t find her spark.

After meeting a hippie Captain named Moonwind (who can traverse between the material and spiritual realms), Joe and 22 fall into the mortal realm so Joe can occupy his comatose body again.

But as usual, Joe falls short … into his therapy cat. Named Mr. Mittens, of all things.😶

Soul (2020). Disney.

And 22 took his (Joe’s) body. So 22 gets to live, breathe, taste, and feel for the first time since…well, since the dawn of time.

Joe and 22 travel the city of New York to find Moonwind (who spins store signs on street corners for a living) to send them back. Unbeknownst to Joe, 22 is going through a radical transformation in his own body. She’s experiencing something that everyday humans take for granted: life.

Living Soul

22 can now see, hear, feel, and taste everything: The wind blowing past her face, the leaves falling from the trees, the taste of pizza on her lips, the music of a subway performer …

To the eyes of a first-time observer, this is life. It’s enlightenment. And that is 22’s long-missing “spark.” Life.

Joe gets his body back but 22 is back in spiritual limbo in the Great Before. He arrives at the most important gig of his life after approval and prodding from his dubious mother. Joe has finally made it. This is the moment he’s waited for since his late father introduced him to jazz all those years ago.

Once Joe completes the gig, he can die a happy man.

Or so he thought.

A Soul’s Journey

After the gig with Dorothea ends, Joe is still feeling … empty. As if there’s so much left to be done.

Dorothea looks at him with an avuncular eye, “A young fish approached an older fish and said ‘Excuse me, I’m looking for the place they call the Ocean. The older fish said, “But you’re already there.” The younger fish said, “But this body of water doesn’t feel like the ocean.”

Joe and Dorothea outside the jazz club in Soul (2020).
SOUL, from left: Dorothea Williams (voice: Angela Bassett), Joe Gardner (voice: Jamie Foxx), 2020. © Disney+ / Courtesy Everett Collection

And so back Joe goes … back to the subway. Back to the school to teach children. Back to his mother’s tailor shop.

The enlightenment he thought he’d achieve has evaded him, still.

Joe was so focused on the destination that he neglected to acknowledge the journey. The journey we take is enriched by the many day-to-day moments of our lives.

Joe’s journey involved him teaching children the power of music. It involved him working and bonding with his mother through her tailor shop.

Joe got to live in the most bustling, metropolitan city in the world and take in all of its sensory splendor. Up to that point, Joe overlooked it all for the sake of temporary satisfaction from achieving his dream.

Your Dream is Not the End

Even when you reach your destination, it’s never the end. There’s always more territory to trek through beyond that. The days, months, and years will continue to roll by. The rent will be due at the end of the month. Your boss needs you to show up for work. You’re getting calls from the credit card company, nudging you to pay off your balance.

Life goes on, even after your dreams are achieved. Dreams are only 1% of the journey. Why enjoy that 1% when you can bask in the whole, entire journey? The journey that spans several decades of your time on Earth?

Life doesn’t end until it ends.

Soul (2020). Disney.

22, being the whimsical child, cherished that journey when she first visited Earth. It took a child’s mind to awaken an adult’s jaded heart. Since 22 learned that everyone’s “spark” is simply enjoying what life has to offer and living in the moment, she finally got to live on Earth.

Life is about living in the moment. In its myriad moments, I should say.

Souls and Spirits

Soul is not a film about literal souls. It’s a story about spirits drifting in symbolic limbo (or even Hell), either because they’re too focused on their destination, or they’ve already reached it and don’t know where to go next.

You have to live for your spirit to come alive. Live in all of the moments you have. Live in all of the moments you get.

Pixar has given us a grand slam once again. With their powerful visuals and smart writing, they continue to be an attraction for kids’ hearts, intellectual minds, and all the casual movie-goers.

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