Imagine you just received news that your lifelong dream is finally coming true—but after one unfortunate misstep into a New York City manhole, you landed yourself in the Great Beyond, a bridge of sorts before the afterlife. That’s what happened to Joe Gardner (Jamie Foxx), Soul’s loveable protagonist.
Joe spends his days as a middle school band teacher, but all he wants out of life is to become a professional jazz musician. When it seems like his dream is finally in his grasp, all of a sudden he finds himself in the ethereal Great Before, becoming a mentor to a not-yet-born, stubborn soul named 22, who was not ready to come to Earth yet.
Now, in his desperate attempts to switch places with 22 (Tina Fey) to get back to his old life on Earth, Joe is faced with questioning the purpose of his life, if his dream was really enough to fulfill him, and what life is really about.
Soul is Disney/Pixar’s newest film. True to their strengths, this colorful children’s movie is just as much for the parents as it is for kids. Crosswalk was able to gain extra insight into the film in an interview with its director Pete Docter, and its producer Dana Murray.
Here are 5 things parents should know about the movie Soul.
1. Soul Will Give Your Family Fun Opportunities to Talk about God
Soul asks the question “What makes you, you?”—and it will be so much fun to imagine with your kids how they think God specially made them.
The setting splits its time between modern-day New York City and the abstract space of the Great Before, where babies are imagined to go into little factories and come out with personalities, dispositions, and interests in life. Once they find their “spark,” they receive their Earth Pass and float down to home to begin their lives.
Director Pete Docter shares his inspiration for this movie: “It started with my son—he’s 23 now—but the instant he was born, he already had a personality,” says Docter. “Where did that come from? I thought your personality developed through your interaction with the world. And yet, it was pretty clear that we’re all born with a very unique, specific sense of who we are.”
These scenes will give you and your kids a chance to imagine together what God included when he made them unique, if they think God really has a factory or something else, what ingredients they think God used to make them so funny or smart.
Although this movie does not take a specifically Christian stance on what a soul is or isn’t, parents can take this time to remind their kids that God made the whole world, they are “fearfully and wonderfully made,” and that God lovingly created them for a purpose.
2. Soul Will Help Your Kids Discover Their “Spark”
According to Soul, someone’s “spark” is the thing that makes their life worth living. 22 is a soul that has been around since almost the beginning of time, and yet has not yet been able to find her spark.
She’s had all sorts of famous mentors try to help her throughout the ages: Aristotle, Gandhi, and Abraham Lincoln to name a few. But over the years, she has become cynical that life is worth living at all, and so she rebels against every mentor’s attempts to prove otherwise—until Joe.
Through the hilarious and cosmic events that unfold, 22 and Joe find themselves back on Earth (albeit, not in the form you’d expect). 22 gets to experience all the lovely things life has offer—and Joe learns that his spark isn’t what he thought it was.
Parents can use this movie as an opportunity to find out what lights their kids up and makes them excited about life.
Dana Murray shared that her own young kids got to watch her film, and that “…the conversations that I hope were happening were happening. And I think the things that they really connect to are…their spark, like they’re just trying to figure out ‘what are the things that I really love doing and what am I interested in?’”
With such a strong visual to hold onto, parents can ask their kids those more abstract questions, and get to know what their kids value in a way they may have not been able to before.
As parents are reminded about the beauty that life holds in the form of family, purpose, and everyday meaning, they can teach their kids to look for it too, and learn more about God in the process.
3. Soul Boasts Strong, Diverse Characters
It is much too rare of a sight to have a mainstream movie focus on a black family. But especially in the year 2020, it’s refreshing to have audiences get to see warm, sacred spaces to the black community, like the jazz club and barbershop.
And of course, gorgeous, soulful jazz music is a staple to this film—a distinctly African American contribution to the world of music.
Co-director Kemp Powers was instrumental in making the African American culture showcased in the film as authentic as possible. Says Peter Docter, “Having Kemp on board was a huge help in that regard, and the cultural consultants and musicians we’ve worked with brought us so much knowledge—we wouldn’t have been able to make the film without their help and support.”
Not only are the black men given a chance to transcend stereotypes, but the women are too. Joe Gardener’s mother, Libba, and world-renowned jazz musician who Joe lands a shot to play with, Dorothea Williams, are strong but comforting pillars in Joe’s life. They are confident, energetic, and loving—a wonderful snapshot of vibrant black culture.
Representation matters—especially in the shaping of young minds—and every step forward is worth celebrating.
4. Soul Will Probably Confuse Your Kids
And, it might confuse you at times, too. This movie goes after extremely complex themes and its characters and settings can get quite abstract.
The movie wants to leave its audiences asking questions about the meaning of life, the human experience, what it means to be you, whether or not your life’s purpose should be your sole quest in life, and what it means to be truly fulfilled.
And the setting takes you through places like the Great Beyond (seemingly anything post-death), the Great Before (where souls get their personalities and their spark), The Zone (where people’s souls go when they get really into music or a sport, etc.), and The Astral Plane (where “Lost Souls” go and can be rescued by a group called “Mystics without Borders”)… and it seems like at least some of the characters can traverse these planes of existence at will.
It gets kind of trippy.
So, don’t be surprised if your kids walk out of the movie with 100 questions, and you feel like you can only answer two of them
5. …But, Soul Will Still Entertain the Whole Family
Even if the only two questions you can confidently answer end up being about the names of characters or what instrument Joe played, your whole family will still have a great time.
There are many moments that will make everyone laugh, and a few that might make the adults happy-cry. The movie is colorful and engaging, and all of the characters are highly likable.
In the case that Soul leaves you with more questions than answers, rest assured that they’re the fun kind of questions that help you get to know yourself and your family better.
And what better time to ask your family questions about what really matters to them, than the beautiful season of Christmas?
Soul will premiere on Disney+ on December 25th, 2020. Learn more about it here.
Photo Credit: Disney Australia
Kelly-Jayne McGlynn loves her role as Family Editor for Crosswalk. She sees the act of expression, whether through writing or art, as a way to co-create with God and experience him deeper. Check out her handmade earring Instagram and Etsy for more of her thoughts on connecting with God through creative endeavors.