Deep into Soul — the new Pixar movie out on Disney+ and Disney+ Hotstar — protagonist Joe Gardner (Jamie Foxx) achieves what he has been waiting his whole life for. Those are literally his words, not mine, but Joe is not anywhere near as happy as he expected to be. It’s unexpected for Soul too. Most films, once they set a goal, send heroes on a journey on which they encounter obstacles, before arriving at their destination with new values. But Soul goes a step further and questions all of it. What is the journey worth? What should you be willing to give in pursuit of the goal? And what if we are moving towards the wrong destination? In other words, Soul is interested in pondering the meaning of life — the biggest question of them all.
That’s especially ambitious for an animated movie, but Pixar has never been one to shy away from a challenge. And it’s got the right man at the helm to help tackle just that: Pete Docter, who previously directed Inside Out (a similarly ambitious movie about the importance of all emotions), Up (tackling death and processing grief), and Monsters, Inc. (parenting with the use of fear). Docter also wrote Soul with Kemp Powers (also co-director) and Mike Jones. Soul has some pretty interesting things to say about the fine line between being passionate and being consumed by it. And how society tends to conflate passion with purpose, which leads to some people single-mindedly striving for a goal without any care for those around them, while others feel entirely useless.
We are routinely told that we aren’t worth anything if we don’t have a purpose in life. Soul tackles that thinking. It says that there’s more to life than chasing your ambition, and that our purpose is to help others on their journey, inspiring them and being a positive force. From the opposite perspective, Soul remarks that what people say affects us, influences us, and can limit us. We need to surround ourselves with those who empower us and not put us down, find people who believe in you and push you and don’t try to teach you how to live. Words can cut deep, as a late-game scene in Soul shows, and stop us from living the life we want and being who we’re meant to be. It’s regular old living that’s the purpose, and that’s the exciting part.
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