Pixar’s ‘Soul’ explores the true purpose of life

Lavette Williams, Editor-in-Chief

Eleven years after Disney released “Princess and the Frog,” which had its first black princess, Pixar finally produces a movie with its very own black lead called, “Soul.”

“Soul” made its debut on the Disney+ platform on Dec. 25, gifting its viewers with an inside perspective on African-American culture, music and the true meaning of life. The film tells the story of Joe Gardner, a part-time middle school band teacher and a lover of jazz, who believes that he was born to play the piano.

Ever since his father took him to a jazz club when he was younger, Joe has always dreamed of being a successful jazz musician. So, when he gets a phone call from a former student offering him the opportunity to perform with Dorothea Williams, a lead saxophonist in The Dorothea Williams Quartet, he immediately accepts. That very same day, Joe rushes over to audition. It isn’t until after he scores the gig that his life takes a major drop.

After Joe falls to his death in the sewer, viewers see him in a holding pattern as a blue figure, sporting only his signature top-hat and glasses. Joe discovers that he is supposed to be heading towards the Great Beyond, but instead, unprepared to say farewell to his life, finds himself plummeting into the Great Before. In this Great Before, Joe realizes that his only way back to Earth is to mentor a new soul, help them get their Earth patch and to use this patch to get back down to his body.

By luck, Joe is assigned “22”, one of the most difficult souls to ever attend the Youth Seminar. Twenty-two has been mentored by Mother Theresa, Abraham Lincoln and even Muhammad Ali, but has yet to ever achieve an Earth patch … until now. With the help of Mystics, Joe and 22 (who accidentally gets pulled along) make it back to Earth … in the wrong bodies. From here, the film guides its viewers into Joe’s journey back into his rightful body so that he is able to fulfill his lifelong dream.

“Soul” touches on life from almost every angle – from 22’s, a troubled soul who hasn’t quite found their niche yet, from Connie’s, a middle schooler who is discouraged from playing the trombone, from Joe’s mom’s, a widower who only wants the best for her son, from Dez’s, a barber whose dream of becoming a veterinarian was altered after the birth of his baby girl.

However, I believe the biggest takeaway came from Joe’s persistent attempt to prove that his sole purpose for living was music. In his lust for jazz, he forgets to enjoy the simplicity of life. He is at a point where he believes that things like sky-watching and walking are “just regular old living.” It isn’t until after he performs with Dorothea Williams and the two musicians are saying their goodbyes that he realizes that it was not what he was expecting.

“I’ve been waiting on this day for my entire life,” Joe says in disbelief, “I thought it would feel different.”

“I heard this story about this fish,” Dorothea says, “He swims up to an old fish and says, ‘I’m trying to find this thing they call the ocean.’ ‘The ocean,’ says the older fish. ‘That’s what you’re in right now.’ ‘This,’ says the young fish. ‘This is water. What I want is the ocean.’”

For a while, I pondered Dorothea’s words. Why would she leave Joe with this vague metaphor? Why didn’t she just tell him that maybe music wasn’t what he’s been chasing after all? Continuously throughout the movie, people are trying to tell and to show Joe that humans aren’t born to fit a role … they aren’t born to be a barber, a musician, a tailor, a teacher … they’re born to live. And perhaps, like a sheet of music, Dorothea leaves her words for Joe to read in-between the lines.

I feel like she was trying to explain to him that no matter what we do, what we dream, if we are not satisfied with our life, we are always going to yearn for more. Even if we obtain this dream, we are not going to feel fulfilled by it.

It is not until the end of the movie that Joe makes a commitment to live every minute of his life.

How many of us watched “Soul,” – and maybe we didn’t necessarily agree with their take on life-after-death approach – but related to Joe’s apathy about living? How many of us are too caught in our career, in our dreams that we miss out on the small things? There are too many of us who are roaming throughout life with blinders on, too many of us on autopilot, too many of us not living our lives to the fullest. 

After watching “Soul” for a third time, I truly believe that it has motivated me to get out of “The Zone” and back into my life. This is why I would rate this movie 5 out of 5 stars.