There’s nothing that can ruin a year quite like a global pandemic. 2020 was hard for pretty much everyone. Millions of people around the world were locked down, and every day slowly became the same, spent either working from home or being unable to work at all. As you could expect, a lot of people struggled to stay positive without the usual sparks of joy that we are used to: success in our careers, seeing friends, eating at restaurants, and even so much as going outside. Everything came to a standstill. Life for many, myself included, felt like it had lost its colour, with many people’s mental health plummeting.
Pixar’s Soul, which was released on Disney+ on Christmas Day, is a hopeful antidote to this feeling of despair as we enter a fresh new year.
It centres around Joe, a disillusioned NYC music teacher who is bored by his job teaching middle schoolers how to not be terrible at playing instruments, and dreams of being a “proper” jazz pianist. One day, he gets a shot at his dream gig, but abruptly dies after not paying attention to where he was walking (quite macabre for a Disney property), falling down a manhole as he excitedly talks on the phone. He finds himself on the conveyor belt to the ‘Great Beyond’ but escapes and ends up in the ‘Great Before’ – snappily rebranded as the ‘You Seminar.’ There he finds the souls of all the proto-people about to be born, and sees how they’re built into a person, being given personality traits and passions. While trying desperately to get back to Earth and his body so that he can make it to his dream gig, he meets ‘22’, a soul who really doesn’t want to be born and experience the trials and tribulations of life on planet Earth. Every soul goes through a process to find their “spark”, which allows them to enter Earth and be born, but 22, not interested in anything, fears that she will never find something that she thinks is worth living for.
A series of classic Pixar mishaps lead to 22 being thrust into life, but in Joe’s body, while Joe accompanies her in the body of an unfortunate cat who got in the way. 22, initially terrified and overwhelmed by the slurry of sensory stimuli thrown her way, slowly grows to love being alive. She cherishes her first tastes of delicious foods (pizza is good enough to make anyone want to stay, right?), listening to jazz music, and crucially, the simple things in life, like watching a sycamore seed drift slowly to the pavement on a cool autumn day, twirling blissfully in the golden New York evening sunlight. She realises her “spark” is just the excitement to live and exist in the world around her, and to experience everything to its fullest, even if Joe always thought it was mundane.
It’s a film about appreciating the little things, which in a year where the only things left are the little things, is exactly what we need to switch our perspective on life. Joe had grown blind to the beauty of the everyday, constantly chasing the one thing that he thought would make him happy, and neglecting everything else, even the woman he loved. He was living to get his dream job, and hated the grind of the day-to-day, ignoring the nuggets of hope tucked away in between.
That exact feeling pervaded 2020 for the majority of people. It was a year of purgatory. The everyday became so much more of a grind, an endless year of lunch-break-weekends, with dream jobs and long-awaited trips being so far out of reach that it felt hopeless. Through 22’s eyes, we see her fresh wonder at the things we’ve forgotten can be beautiful. Life isn’t only meaningful if we’re progressing in material ways like our careers or our bank accounts. It’s meaningful in warm hugs between loved ones, the smooth rich taste of a hot chocolate, laughing at a friend’s joke, the sound of a new favourite song, the soft touch of a cat’s fur.
In the days since watching Soul, I’ve paid more attention to the glimmers of hope around me. I’ve tried to live each day hour-by-hour, in a new world where long-term thinking is impossible. While it’s looking like our current situation might not change for a little while, we can always change the way we see the world around us. Soul teaches us to savour every little pleasure that comes our way, and to be mindful of the beauty already in our lives. A simple yet achievable goal like that is exactly what we all need to get us through the next 12 months of the unknown, and to keep us hopeful for freedom to come.