Over the years, Pixar’s movie-making formula has solely consisted of their taking inanimate objects or non-human entities and making them sentient — personifying them. “Toy Story,” “Cars,” “A Bug’s Life” and “Monsters Inc.” are notable examples, full of bright colors, standout celebrity voice actors and (mostly) happy endings. They are perfect examples of Pixar movies.
And yet, Pixar has recently begun to create more existential and meaningful movies, like the tearjerker “Coco” and the surprisingly profound “Inside Out.” Now, they have added to that list with their newest film, “Soul.”
“Soul” follows middle school music teacher and hopeful jazz pianist Joe Gardner, voiced by Jamie Foxx (“Ray”) through the soul realm. After accidentally falling through a manhole, he eventually finds himself in The Great Before, where souls live before they are born. There, Joe forms a bond with a character named Soul 22 (Tina Fey, “Sisters”) who doesn’t understand why he wants to get back to Earth so badly. He also doesn’t believe she’ll ever find her “spark,” the aspect of herself that will supposedly make her who she is.
“Soul” has all the qualities of a beautiful Pixar movie, with its lovely visuals and light, childish humor, but it is also much more than that because of its message. One of the most moving moments in the film is when 22 has to reckon with the fact that she doesn’t have a “spark” — she fears that this means she has no purpose.
As a college student, I have, on many occasions, felt the fear that comes with not knowing my purpose. It’s a scary thing to have to bear. Society puts pressure on young people to know what they want to do and who they are so early, but “Soul” reminds us that this isn’t necessary. You don’t need to know who you are, you just need to be. You need to remember to enjoy life rather than try to control every aspect of it.
That’s what “Soul” wants us to consider: the moments that make life worth living. While Joe thinks that he needs to be a jazz pianist, a person with a purpose, he eventually realizes that he should stop thinking so hard about what he’s doing and focus more on what is happening around him.
When 22 faces her devastation about having no spark, “Soul” presents another interesting and important aspect of the film. She has a breakdown, becoming a sad and lonely being in the soul realm. This is the movie’s way of portraying anxiety and depression, something that many kid-friendly films shy away from even mentioning. While some viewers may find the portrayal offensive or negative because the being that she morphs into is dark and scary-looking, it isn’t. It’s shockingly real and imparts important information to the audience. This portrayal of mental health is something that viewers will keep with them and, hopefully, use to better their understanding of it.
“Soul” will appeal to all viewers, young and old. The young will find that they have learned something from the film, and older audience members will be genuinely surprised to discover that this animated movie that they believed to be meant for children reflects their experience of life so accurately.
Daily Film Beat Editor Sabriya Imami can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.