Discovering life purpose in Disney Pixar’s film Soul

Readers beware, this article contains spoilers to the film Soul. Please take caution while reading. Thank you.


Jacey Heffernan '21

Disney Pixar presents the animated film Soul, released December 25.

From the creators of the 2015 animated film Inside Out, Soul (2020) gives audiences a deeper insight into their own characteristics and nature and begs the question, “what makes you, you?”  Co-directors Mr. Pete Docter and Mr. Kemp Powers produced the film Soul with Pixar Animation Studios for Walt Disney.  Soul is a computer-animated fantasy comedy-drama film and marks the first time Pixar has produced a film with a predominantly Black cast.  Mr. Jamie Foxx plays the protagonist Joe Gardner, a jazz pianist and middle school music teacher who has a passion for music.  The film follows Joe’s life as it takes a dramatic turn when he steps into the afterlife, leading him to contemplate his life choices, regret his existence, and eventually finds meaning in his life.

Joe has waited his entire life for his “big break,” a performance with a famous musician, where he would finally get to showcase his talent.  On his way to conquer his dreams at the performance, Joe has a near-death experience and falls into a sewer, which later puts him into a so-called afterlife.  In reality, he is in a medical coma, causing his soul to leave his body and send him to the afterlife.

Joe, 22, and his cat work their way back to Earth to try to get Joe’s soul back into his body.  Courtesy of

In this afterlife, otherwise known as the “Hall of You,” Joe meets his mentor, named 22, played by Mrs. Tina Fey.  His mentor, the bright and curious deuteragonist, gives Joe a deeper insight into his current life.  In this fantasy world, Joe and 22 explore the elements that make up a person.  For example, they dive into everyone in the afterlife’s personality, mental illnesses, and personal aspirations.  Towards the end of the movie, the duo works its way back to Earth to try to get Joe’s soul back into his body before it is too late.

After freeing himself from this dimensional world, Joe is finally able to have another shot at his big time performance to make his dreams come true.  Once the performance is over, Joe has an epiphany and realizes he took his entire life for granted.

22 acts as Joe’s mentor while they are in the “Hall of You.”  Courtesy of

For an animation film, Soul has a unique and mature plot, which many find impactful.  Overall, the movie is well-produced.  Although the complex and distinctive plot was perplexing at first, through the use of comic relief, the movie was able to broach underlying philosophical topics, such as one’s life purpose, the idea of heaven and hell, and the afterlife.  This film scores a 96 percent on the Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer and has an audience score of 88 percent from 5,152 ratings, according to

Dr. William Mottolese, Upper School English Teacher and Chair of the English Department, shared his insight on the film and discussed his personal favorite aspects of Joe’s character.

“I thought it was one of the best Pixar films I have ever seen,” Dr. Mottolese said.  “Soul is quite metaphysical, exploring the spiritual dimensions of human existence, and deeply existential as Joe Gardner and the little lost soul, 22, try to figure out their purposes in life.  I also love that it was Pixar’s first film with an African-American protagonist, and that it involved jazz.  So many of my own personal loves came together in this film: meditation, spirituality, philosophy, and jazz.”

Featured Image by Jacey Heffernan ’21