The recent Pixar film Soul has been a hit with folks stuck at home and hungering for something new to watch. The first Pixar film with a black protagonist, the story centers on Joe, a middle school band teacher (voiced by Jamie Foxx) who never got his big break playing jazz music. Along with praise for the wonderful soundtrack, however, come some questions about the film’s perspective on the human soul, what our lives mean, and what happens to us after we die (and even before we live on earth). We searched for helpful ways to engage teenagers with a popular film they are likely to watch, so we aren’t caught off guard by some of the unbiblical notions it contains. The following articles will get you thinking about how the gospel can shed light on the questions the film raises, and in fact answer those very questions with truth and hope.
The first article is written by Ted Turnau, one of the co-authors of a book we praised in our 2020 book awards, The Pop Culture Parent: Helping Kids Engage Their World for Christ. The article advises parents (though its principles are equally applicable to youth ministers) that younger children ought not to watch Soul, but older teenagers and young adults can profitably engage with the film, especially if they can talk it over with a faithful mentor. Turnau writes, “Besides the visual poetry of the film, beyond the killer soundtrack, this is the message and truth and grace of the movie: Don’t get so hung up about finding your purpose that you miss the beauty of life where you are… Enjoy it. And be grateful. That’s something Christians can and should celebrate: lay aside trying to find ultimate purpose in your career or life passion. We would call that a form of idolatry, trying to make some aspect of your life give you ultimate meaning. Soul says, ‘Don’t. Instead, rest in gratitude’.”
TGC also weighed in on the movie. Dustin Crow claims that “‘Soul’ is the Anti-Disney Disney Movie.” He writes: “Whereas most recent Disney movies tell me to find my purpose by looking within (self-discovery) and chasing my dream at all costs (self-actualization), Soul takes a different approach… A second example of the film’s understanding of purpose is that it exists outside of us rather than inside of us. Joe doesn’t create his own purpose; he enters a world where meaning exists independent of him.”
Finally, you’ll enjoy these musings on Soul from our own Charlotte Getz, who somehow manages to synthesize the jazzy soul of Soul with her newfound passion for baking and her longstanding love for Jesus: “If you read Genesis 1 carefully, there is a remarkableness — a shalom, a divine peace and wholeness — to just regular old living. And it is abundant with small yet superfluous goodness. My life is more than my appearance or my accolades. I am a mother living in a world filled with child-like magic; I am an amateur baker; I am a wife to a novice drummer and Lego-master; I live in a city abundant with hydrangeas and fried chicken and old friends who will gladly eat my baked goods. John 1:16 says, “For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.” Because I am both surrounded and inhabited by a dead-then-living God, I can jazz just about anywhere, even in this harsh and unforgiving winter. I can be full because I have been filled.”