REVIEW: Disney-Pixar’s ‘Soul’ preaches new outlook on appreciating life

By Catherine Khitiri, Lead Arts and Cultures Editor

Pixar seems to have a theme of personifying practically anything. What if toys had feelings? What if cars had feelings? What if emotions had feelings? Now Pixar answered one more question: What if souls had feelings? Right off the bat, viewers could tell that this movie would be dealing with some existential themes. What happens after we die? What makes a person’s soul? How do we know if what we aspire to be is right for us? The fear of death, the fear of failure and the meaning of life are all heavy themes that Pixar tackles. It is very easy for a viewer to stop and think about the importance of their own life after watching this movie.

“Soul” is about aspiring jazz pianist Joe Gardner who finally lands the gig of his lifetime: performing with jazz superstar Dorthea Williams. As he runs home to find himself a good suit and tie, he falls into a manhole, leaving him in a comatose state. Suddenly he finds himself on the brink of life and death, literally. He is embodied as a soul and is on the tracks to enter “The Great After.” Panicked, he runs off the platform and ends up in “The Great Before,” the place where new souls are created. Each new soul is assigned personality traits, ambitions and aspirations. With the help of mentors (specifically chosen recently deceased people who are known for their accomplishments on Earth), the new souls try to find their “spark,” which can range from anything, such as writing, archery, cooking or breakdancing. Once they find their spark, they are sent to Earth to become a brand new person. But when Joe enters “The Great Before,” he is mistaken as a mentor – and his journey shifts dramatically.

The animation and visual styling in “Soul” are rave-worthy. It is quite apparent that each Pixar movie looks better than the previous. The scenic shots of New York City brought to life is a sight to see. The distinct art style of the humans is a staple in each Pixar movie. The movie transitions nicely from the loud and busy New York City to the obscure afterlife. When Joe enters the “afterlife,” suddenly he becomes a simple human-like caricature. This is a vast contrast that can please a viewer. Another notable feature is the amount of diversity this film showcases. The majority of characters are African-American, but all characters shown come in all shapes and sizes. Representation is very important in film, especially in a family film. 

The film is also not afraid to tackle fairly hefty, existential themes. The baby-souls in The Great Before are instructed to find their “spark” which is their motivation for life. Every person is expected to have a spark, but like 22, what happens if you don’t have one? In a world full of seemingly endless opportunities, it is difficult to just pick one. Maybe nothing seems to be interesting, and that is okay too. Towards the end of the movie, it is revealed that a “spark” is not just an aspiration for a career or a hobby; it’s finding the aspects of what makes life beautiful. Family, friends, memories, the atmosphere, and everything in between can make life worth living. From classic New York style pizza, to the leaves that fall from trees, life is what you make it. Don’t take things for granted. Life can be very beautiful if you take notice. Even if you worry constantly about how you live your life, there will always be some sort of motivational factor. The meaning of life is not just accomplishments, it is enjoying what you have.

One line that stands out is when Joe says, “I’m just afraid that if I died today, my life would have amounted to nothing.” For many, this is an intensely relatable feeling. People constantly feel the need to have purpose in their lives. When life feels repetitive or boring, it can be very easy to feel unappreciated. “Soul” teaches the viewers that life does not need to be busy to have purpose. The real meaning of life is being surrounded by good people and doing the things you love, even if they have no purpose. What would life be like without your favorite song? Or your favorite book? Imagine a world without flowers; imagine how boring everything would look. This movie teaches viewers to appreciate the small things in life. If we feel like life is not where we want it to be, it is best to count our blessings in the meantime.

“Soul” is witty, lovable and important. It preaches individuality, appreciation and perseverance. It is not your typical Disney movie. People of all ages can learn a thing or two from this movie. Life may not always be ideal, but giving up is never the solution. If you’re looking for the next Disney+ stream, “Soul” is highly recommended.