With “Soul”, Disney Helps Us Move Past 2020

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After the absolutely insane year that was 2020, we all desperately needed a palate-cleanser. Disney and Pixar ended the year by giving us one, and if you have a chance to go to a movie theater or if you have a subscription to Disney+, I highly recommend you take it in (WARNING: Mild spoilers below.)

Disney’s Soul is the story of a part-time music teacher (voiced by Jamie Foxx) at a public school who also loves to play jazz on the piano. He plays gigs when he can find them and lives with the hope that one day he’ll make it big on the jazz scene and not have to teach anymore. He gets offered a full-time position (with a full-time salary and benefits!), making him wonder if he’ll ever reach his dream.

That teacher, Joe, finally gets an opportunity to play with a group and lands the gig, which he is sure is his ticket out into the world of jazz. Excited about the prospects, he pays absolutely no attention to where he’s going amid the hustle and bustle of New York and falls into a manhole.

He seemingly dies (considering he’s on his way to the “Great Beyond”) but manages to escape to the “Great Before”, where souls are prepared for life on earth. He is mistaken for a mentor and is assigned a wayward soul, known only as 22 (voiced by Tina Fey), who has gone through thousands of years of mentors and has avoided going to earth just by purposefully being bad.

Joe is the mentor, and 22 is the student. What makes this movie so powerful is that the main character, Joe, is also the main villain. Yes, he’s being chased down by an abstract being because he’s supposed to go back in line for the Great Beyond, but Joe’s actions throughout the movie are so self-centered and so focused on the wrong things that he is the one making things harder for himself.

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At the very end of the movie, however, he realizes the one thing that most of us seem to have forgotten in this modern age: That life isn’t about the destination. It’s about the journey.

For a brief period of time, Joe is back in his own body. He lands the gig and the jazz quartet plays a fantastic show. At the end of it, he asks the lead player in the group what was next, and seems disappointed when she says “We come back tomorrow night and do it again.”

Upon seeing his disappointment, she tells him the story of a fish. The fish wanted to know where the ocean was because he knew it was bigger and better. Another fish told him that he was already in the ocean, but the first fish rejected that notion because “This is just water. I want the ocean.”

We are constantly focused too much on far-away things. On a personal level, it’s all about where we want to end up. If you pay attention to politics, it’s all about what’s happening in Washington D.C. If you work a full-time job, it’s all about devoting your time to getting that next promotion and moving up the ladder. But we forget about the stuff along the way that makes the journey so important. We are constantly looking for the ocean when we don’t realize the abundance we have around us now.

Family. Friends. Passions. Hobbies. Whatever it is, it’s there for us to enjoy. We can’t be so focused on what’s ahead that we don’t see what’s here now.

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We were so focused on the big stories, and subsequently the big negatives, of 2020 that it was all we talked about. But 2021 has started and it’s time to forget about 2020. Whatever you plan on doing this year, make the most out of every day of it.

One of those days, you should definitely watch Soul, though.


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