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The Important Life Lessons From Pixar’s “Soul”

Animation is for everyone. That is something Pixar has made abundantly clear throughout their entire history, especially in their past several films. Their movies perfectly blend zany, kid-friendly humor with down-to-earth messages that adults need to be reassured of every so often; not to mention that their recent movies are some of the most beautifully crafted ever when it comes to sound and visuals. Pixar’s work is appreciated by everyone no matter what age, and it has made them one of the most widely-acclaimed animation studios ever. Soul, the newest film from Pixar, is certainly no exception.

Directed by Pete Docter, Pixar’s Chief Creative Officer and the director of Monsters Inc., Up, and Inside Out, Soul tells the story of Joe Gardner as he tries to find his big break as a jazz musician while working as a part-time middle school band teacher. He sees himself hitting a dead end with pressure from his family to take a full-time job. All of that changes when he gets a call from a former student, who tells him that jazz legend Dorothea Williams has an opening in her band. She brings him on board after witnessing his piano playing, but unfortunately for him he falls down a manhole on his way back home.

Joe wakes up to find himself in the “Great Beyond”, or afterlife, and that his soul has separated from his body. In an attempt to escape, Joe winds up in the “Great Before”, a place where unborn souls prepare themselves for life on Earth. He gets mixed up into a mentor program and is tasked with helping out 22, a soul who has been residing in the “Great Before” for a very long time and refuses to find her “spark”, or passion. After numerous hijinks and attempts to cheat the system, both Joe and 22 end up together on Earth. However, nothing works out the way they want; 22 takes over Joe’s body in a hospital and Joe in a therapy cat. This forces them to work together, as Joe has to teach 22 how to properly behave out in public while trying to get her to his apartment and get ready for his performance later on in the night.

This experience becomes an opportunity for 22 to finally find her driving interest by getting a taste of the real world, but isn’t able to do so. Something remarkable happens instead; she starts to show appreciation for all of the little things in life, such as eating a slice of pizza and having interesting conversations with Joe’s acquaintances. For example, 22 talks to Joe’s barber Dez about how he initially wanted to become a veterinarian. He came to enjoy cutting hair because it gave him the chance to personally know his clients, and he felt fulfillment in doing so. This helps Joe confront his mother when they have to get his suit fixed – she objects to Joe finding a career as a jazz musician because it doesn’t offer much financial security. He explains to her that the whole point of pursuing jazz was so he could look back on his life and say to himself, “I’ve lived life the way I wanted to.”

Growing up, I have seen firsthand the effects of people who chose to pursue their passion in life versus those who just wanted to be financially secure. Money will always be important, but in some cases this results in people being forced to give up their passion and potentially living a miserable life. The people I’ve spoken to who pursued their interests by all means necessary were much happier and appreciated life more. I decided I was going to choose the latter and studied to have a career in entertainment, even if it means having to stand up to people like Joe did with his mother. Everyone deserves to achieve satisfaction in whatever it is they decide to pursue, whether it’s entertainment, economics, healthcare, or whatever. It was the most important message the film had given at this point in time, or so I thought.

Joe finally returns to his normal body, but at the cost of 22’s resentment towards him for not allowing her to stay on Earth and find her purpose. He makes it to the gig with Dorothea and has a successful performance, however he realizes that this is a regular routine for them and is ultimately nothing groundbreaking. He would not find any greater fulfillment in joining Dorothea’s quartet than teaching a class of middle schoolers.

The biggest issue for Joe was that he was only looking at life as it pertained to him and his love for jazz music. Throughout his entire life he pushed everything in front of him aside all so he could achieve musical greatness as the next jazz legend. What Dorothea tells him is that there’s almost no point in trying to make it even further because he already has made it. By focusing solely on his career and passions, he had ignored everything else that life had to offer – something that 22 was able to accomplish during her stay on Earth. Joe comes to understand that there is a whole lot more to life than just jazz music.

Soul is a shockingly deep and mature movie, even for Pixar. The studio has always had a reputation for catering to adults just as much as kids, but the big takeaway from this movie is the most resounding out of any of the films they have released. It’s a message that so many adults need to hear, and it carries two big parts to it. Everyone deserves to follow whatever passion they have in life and stick to it, but at the same time they cannot allow themselves to be defined by their work. There is a lot more to life than just achieving personal greatness; instead of figuring out what you can give to life itself, consider thinking about what life has to offer in return. Small things like taking a walk in nature, trying new foods, learning about others and their experiences – all of these things are what makes life worth living. It’s a message that many adults, myself included, need to be reassured of.

Soul is available to stream on Disney+.

(Cover Photo: CNBC)

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