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Pixar’s New Film ‘Soul’ Delves Into Deep Philosophical Questions

Jamie Foxx as Joe Gardner in Soul (Photo Credit: Disney/Pixar)

The following is a submission to the New York Times Learning Network.

Remember, let’s be polite; let’s be respectful, but most of all, let’s be outspoken.

Over the past few decades, Pixar has developed movies that provoke metaphysical themes or push the boundaries of humanity’s greatest unanswered questions. Pixar Studio’s “Toy Story,” “Ratatouille,” and “Cars” represent a small fraction of the numerous Pixar movies that express a theme of identity, purpose, and abstract theory. Pixar’s 2020 film titled “Soul” is no exception.

Simply, the movie will go down as a classic. Through its beautiful animation, hilarious jokes, compelling writing, and amazing soundtrack, the movie employs a creative approach that invites everybody to examine their ultimate purpose in life. In achieving such an approach, the movie utilizes visually appealing scenes to capture the attention of even the youngest of audiences. 

The detailed design of the New York setting adds a big city, metropolitan atmosphere. From the robust scene of fast-paced subways filled with sluggish New Yorkers to the smell of melting cheese pizza, the initial atmosphere suggests the New York cliché “anyone can make it big.” A perfect cliché that sets up a not-so-perfect main character named Joe Garner. 

As a struggling jazz pianist and middle school band teacher, Garner represents people who have passionate and unfilled ambitions, stuck in a positive feedback loop of mediocrity. However, when Garner is offered an opportunity to play piano at a nightclub, he believes his life is turning around until he falls into a sewer and dies. After his death, Garner plunges into the Great Before, where he meets an incredibly comedic and unmotivated soul named 22.

With 22’s help, Garner attempts to go back to his body in time for his career-breaking piano gig. After a series of complications and unexpected turns, Joe regains his body and masterfully plays the piano in front of a captivated audience, a pinnacle moment in his career and a defining chapter of his life. Yet, when he finishes playing and the cheering stops, he wonders a simple yet timeless question, “What now?”

The movie ends with 22 finally mustering up enough courage to take on the complex and curious endeavor called life and Joe being given a second chance. The end, in a sense, is elegant and heartwarming in its delivery but speaks volumes on its intention. 

What Joe comes to realize is that the life he was living was predicated on advancing his career without actually observing the tremendous beauty in the menial. While the movie can be understood by younger audiences, it tackles profound intellectual queries relatable and asked by every adult when at a crossroads in their life. In actuality, the true genius of the movie is that it shows we are the masters of our destiny and the true arbiters of life’s definition. 

Remember, let’s be polite; let’s be respectful, but most of all, let’s be outspoken.

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