5 Beautiful Lessons from Soul About What’s Hidden in Plain Sight
Please beware that there are spoilers!
This past Christmas, I had the chance to watch the amazing film Soul. A story that celebrates the everyday Black experience and encourages you to go through inner perspective reflections, Soul stars Joe played by Jaime Foxx (Pixar’s first Black lead) who is a middle-school band teacher that aspires to play with Dorothea Williams and become a famous jazz musician. When Joe finally gets the gig of a lifetime, ironically his life is cut short. He spends the film struggling to get back to earth, but in order to do so he first must mentor character 22 and help her find her spark to earn an “earth pass”.
Throughout the film you’re taken on a journey that bodes the philosophical questions; what is our purpose in life and is our spark something more?
Joe and 22 make it back to earth, but accidentally switch bodies (well 22 is Joe and Joe is a cat), but in the midst of Joe trying to help a resistant 22 see the value of life as a means to get back to what he wants from it, both characters start to see the true meaning of life and in the process garner a new perspective. With that said, here are 5 beautiful lessons from the film that show the importance of appreciating the small things in life and revealing the many sparks along the way.
When Joe is Consumed with “Being in The Zone”
When you think about the term “in the zone”, typically it sparks moments of joy or a feeling of jubilee when you’re so focused and centered on something that all your concentration can be consumed by it. But what happens when you become too consumed? You can get so lost in the desire to regain the moment that you were once in that unfortunately you risk missing out on the everyday joys all around you. The hypnotizing scene where Joe is figuratively gravitating off the ground when he’s playing his melodic sounds on his piano is a beautifully animated site to see.
However, it’s that type of moment that puts Joe in the situation he’s in the first place to do everything he can to get back to earth, to get back to that moment, by any means. Though putting all your energy into one thing could have its benefits, Joe starts to realize that by doing so he’s missing out on everything around him that can also be just as exciting and joyful. That brings me to my next point.
When 22 Starts to Discover a Spark When Connie Is in “The Zone”
So to set the scene, 22 (in Joe’s body) is unphased by earth and doesn’t seem to find a spark of joy in anything around her (besides eating a delicious NY slice of pizza and who can hate that!). While moping around Joe’s apartment, one of Joe’s students’ Connie stops by to proclaim that she is done with the trombone, wants to quit band and school altogether. As 22 shares Connie’s sentiment in giving up, 22 quickly takes away the trombone, but Connie realizes in that very moment that maybe she’s jumping too quick to decisions and as a second thought decides to play one more time.
It is at that moment that 22’s eyes open wide and she is awestruck by Connie and sees her in “the zone”. This is the first time in the film where we see 22 sparked with joy and upon opening her eyes finished playing Connie is also in a state of elation and soon realizes that she loves playing and that she doesn’t want to give up! It’s a beautiful scene and starts to reveal that a spark and inspiration can be brought on by someone else.
When Joe Discovers That There’s More to Dez Than Jazz
Ok, so hands down this scene were my favorite in the film! Between the historical Black images on the wall, the various hairstyles, the playful smack talk, the gold clippers, and getting the haircut lined up just right. The cultural significance of barbershops in Black communities is paramount and a glimpse into this experience is captured perfectly in the film (kudos to co-director Kemp Powers). In this scene, Joe’s barber Dez shares a powerful story about his first love not being barbering but instead becoming a vet.
Dez stumbled into the barber career as life threw him curveballs, but he opened himself up to new possibilities which unlocked a purpose to boost self-confidence and provide a safe haven for his customers. As Joe became astonished that he never knew this side of Dez as they only ever talked about jazz, Joe asked Dez why he didn't know this about him to which Dez replied “You never asked”. This goes back to my earlier point in which Joe was so consumed about being in the zone and focusing only on the interests that he missed out on other amazing small things and moments of connections with others that he could have had earlier. It bodes my next question; is the purpose of life to do great things or to do great things for others?
When Black Women Are the Rock in Joe’s Life
Often Black women are ignored for their contributions to society, but what I especially love about this film is the genuine appreciation of Black women. Joe’s mom along with his non-related “aunts” are the ones that love him unconditionally but are also quick to check Joe when he’s acting a fool or not living up to his fullest potential. Ultimately, Joe’s mom wants the very best for him and wants him to succeed in whatever he does, but also understands the importance of stability and security which could draw rifts between intergenerational families – choosing between pension vs. passion.
This is especially true for Black communities because due to systemic barriers we often don’t get the luxury to lead with our dreams. Many Black parents have to navigate these barriers and as a result, there is elevated protection they place on their kids so they don’t have to experience the struggles that they did. While absolutely understandable, with this younger generation you’re seeing kids especially Black girls (I see you Marsai Martin!) really start to carve out their own path with a focus on doing something that helps others, builds a new legacy, paves the way for others, and parents are being supportive. Eventually, in this scene, Joe and his mom have a heart to heart discussion and embrace knowing that Joe’s mom will support him through and through in helping achieve his dreams.
When Joe Finally Reaches His Goal but Realizes There’s More to Life
Up until this point in the film, Joe has gone through many situations that start to help him discover that maybe what he thought was his purpose was actually more and that maybe there’s not only one thing that can be one’s spark. Nevertheless, Joe is finally transformed back into his body and is able to fulfill his life’s goal by playing with Dorothea Williams. Elated by a great performance from being “in the zone”, Joe excitedly asks Dorothea what’s next to which she responds “we come back tomorrow and do it all again”. However, Joe looks disappointed.
Dorothea then tells the fish fable in which she describes how a little fish told a big fish how he was trying to find the ocean. When the big fish shares that the little fish is indeed in the ocean, the little fish says, “no, this is just water.” The fable is a pivotal scene as it illustrates that not all that glitters is gold and that sometimes what’s directly in front of you is what you’ve been looking for the whole time but didn’t appreciate. It’s the little things hidden in plain sight that show Joe that his whole life was filled with sparks. It was the small things and that his purpose was to celebrate each one.
Overall, Soul was a phenomenal film that both kids and parents can enjoy and take meaningful life lessons from. As Soul was Pixar’s first animated film with a Black lead, young Black children can see themselves positively reflected, celebrate representation, and know that there are limitless possibilities in what they can achieve, especially for our young girls. There’s no “one spark” just like your purpose in life is not meant to be your career or your interests, but ultimately it’s about what impact do you want to leave on society. At Corage Dolls our purpose is to encourage girls of color to be unstoppable. Seeing girls be courageous, empathetic, helpful, and independent are important ways we can all encourage them to leave an impact on society.
Our Aaliyah doll reflects all of these important attributes and is a great companion for when your child watches Soul on Disney+. Sign up for our newsletter below to learn more about Aaliyah and why representation matters.
Flora Ekpe-Idang, Founder | CEO Corage Dolls