The Meaning Behind Disney’s Newest Release: Soul

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Warning: This review contains spoilers.

Disney’s Soul is everything a Disney lover could want and more, featuring a strong African-American protagonist and a goofy sidekick that made for a powerful friendship. With its magical and mesmerizing tone, both kids and adults could be enchanted by its stunning visuals and mature themes. 

Soul follows the life of Joe Gardner (voiced by Jamie Foxx,) and an actual soul named 22 (voiced by Tina Fey) and their adventure as they try to find their purpose. This convivial movie left many older watchers with lingering questions behind the movie’s true meaning.

Life’s not always what it’s expected to be, and Soul’s main characters and story personify this beautifully. A particularly poignant scene in the movie captures this well: Joe, our human protagonist, is trying to help 22 find her “spark,” or what will make her life on earth worthwhile. Before this happens, we take a look at Joe’s memories of his discovery of jazz. Though he was able to find his “spark,” things didn’t go as planned for him. Throughout his career,  a majority of his music gets rejected, an experience so traumatic and shocking that it leads him to forget it altogether. Seeing his present life as a middle school teacher as “meaningless,” scenes of him sitting alone on trains and at diners makes Joe realize that he didn’t live up to the dreams he had envisioned. Towards the end of his life, Joe and 22 find him in a hospital bed in a coma after an accident, a notable turning point in the movie.

The ultimate message of Soul is that, sometimes, it’s the little things that can have the biggest impact on one’s life. Instead of getting hung up on and occasionally disappointed by the big milestones, reveling in the everyday things is special. 

An example of this theme is when 22 enters Joe’s barbershop and engages in a meaningful conversation with his barber Dez, voiced by Donnell Rawlings. However, in contrast to their normal, mundane conversations about jazz, they talk about their dreams and what they think their purpose in life is. Joe, who is personified as an orange tabby cat at this point in the movie, finds their conversation pointless. However, once they exit the barbershop, Dez expresses his appreciation for the deep conversation, leading Joe shocked in his understanding of himself and his life.

Soul made us realize something—“a spark isn’t a soul’s purpose.” The movie’s main mission is to find 22’s “spark,” only to figure out that that spark is the reason for living. As the ultimate point of the movie, this theme allows Joe to reflect on his life and figure out that his spark didn’t come from playing the piano. Instead, tender and small moments like watching his father play are where Joe’s purpose lay. These scenes make the audience think back on their own lives and assess what our sparks are.

Despite its release on Christmas Day of last year, there is still a considerable amount of buzz for Soul, and for good reason.  As the movie with Pixar’s first Black protagonist, a rollercoaster of emotional highpoints, and an important message, it helps the audience realize many things. Above all, it’s that your life doesn’t have one purpose nor does it need to. It’s about doing things that brings you joy. 

Ultimately, the audience is left wondering about their purpose and “spark,” and, really, if there is even a difference between the two.