The Timeless Qualities of Disney and Pixar’s “Soul”

New Pixar film “Soul” broke barriers with the name of their company. The movie innovated its way in the conversation of the touchy topic such as life and death (as well as the complexities in between) in the form of a Black-told narrative. There are two reasons, especially, why this in itself is crucial.

The Black narrative

After all, Disney received harsh criticisms for “The Princess and the Frog,” the first Black princess portrayed in the 1920’s in the town of New Orleans, to be historically inaccurate and insensitive. Many critics have their eyebrows raised as Disney and Pixar release “Soul.”

This movie did not go far into explaining African American history, nor did it need to. Joe Gardner’s story is told in the bustling city of New York, capturing his situation of an unfulfilled man wanting to pursue music. However, he’s constantly shut down by his hard-laboring mother that focuses on the concept of music not being a stable career choice, since she had to support Joe’s father when he pursued music.

Weaved through the movie are crucial moments that have tones of a Black man’s life, like kissing his mother’s friend on the cheek every time he walks in, or the experience of being “the king” when he’s in the chair. Of course, incorporating Joe’s childhood experience of Cedric’s rap group and being introduced to jazz music by his father; overall, the importance of the “the tune bringing out the you.”

Disney and Pixar avoided the history lessons, directly showcasing the Black communities’ relevance in a life that is just as anybody else’s. Knowing that it is one worth living like anybody else’s. Knowing that there are embedded cultures and reasons for any type of life, especially jazz in an American city such as New York City. With this, it is successful in their portrayal of his individual experience.

Why living is beautiful

The takeaway was powerful in the notions that began with Joe Gardner chasing the career path and lifestyle he’d always dreamt of, only to veer away from it, stating that it’s so much more.

After getting the gig with Dorothea Williams, he realizes that it doesn’t feel as exhilarating as he thought it would. She then went on with her fish in the ocean reference:

“I heard this story about a fish. He swims up to this older 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 younger fish, ‘this is water. What I want is the ocean.’”

Many go their whole life chasing after a feeling that’s intangible; they believe it is a feeling they’ve never experienced before. Although, life is about the internal feeling of creating a spark that Pixar heavily touches upon through these mini experiences that 22 experiences through Joe Gardner’s body.

It reminded me time and again to the 1999 film “American Beauty,” when Ricky video tapes a plastic bag floating in the wind because of him being enamored over something so purely beautiful in its simplicity — as when 22 was enamored by the taste of pizza, chatting with the barber, music in the subway station and tree petals floating into their hand.

Ricky from American Beauty says it the best way that anybody could in words:

“And this bag was just dancing with me. Like a little kid begging me to play with it. For fifteen minutes. That’s the day I realized that there was this entire life behind things, and this incredibly benevolent force that wanted me to know there was no reason to be afraid, ever.”

In many ways in life, it could be easy for many to become what Pixar’s “Soul” depicts as a “lost soul,” aimlessly and robotically contributing to life in a way of forgotten purpose; in the movie, humorously referencing to hedgefund investors which ties parallel to Disney Animation Studio’s short film of “Inner Workings.”

Or even when 22 becomes absorbed in their own self-destruction and lost without purpose, submerged in dark storms of other souls telling 22 they wouldn’t ever find their spark. Joe ventures to give 22 the petal from the tree to show that the spark they had portrays purpose in itself.

Joe Gardner’s words releasing 22 from being a lost soul states:

“Your spark isn’t your purpose, that last box fills in when you’re ready to come live.”

It is important to live with a spark of curiosity and wonder in order to get past the continuously-expressed notion in life of having a purpose.

I truly appreciated the fact that a man waiving a sign at the corner of a street in New York is one to be so in-tuned with the souls; the fact that there is no social class, wealth gap or humanly portrayal aside from him being in-tuned made this film so humanly. Not to mention, the hilarious elements of the Jerrys and Terry.

There are countless of messages and Pixar’s own scientific and philosophical layers and implications behind the story of Joe Gardner and 22. This is a brief summary of what I found exceedingly innovative that children will now take into account as it’s experienced- whenever that is. And family members of all ages could use the reality check, no matter the financial class, age, skin color or beliefs. The takeaways are purely human.

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