Soul Parent Guide
Pixar has produced a masterpiece of a film that is warm, witty and clever - but not always suitable for little kids.
Parent Movie Review
Rarely has a movie been so well timed – a story packed with existential questions that lands smack in the middle of a global pandemic. Soul, with its exploration of the purpose of life, opens at a time of soaring covid death rates which have led people around the world to ask themselves what they believe about life, death, and the meaning of it all.
As is Pixar’s wont, the cosmic queries come wrapped up in an engaging story. The protagonist, Joe Gardner (voiced by Jamie Foxx), is an inspiring junior high school music teacher who dreams of becoming a professional jazz pianist. On the day when it looks like his dreams have all come true, Joe falls through an open manhole cover. Finding himself on the eternal escalator to the Great Beyond, Joe is overwhelmed with rebellion – “I’m not dying the very day I get my shot!” Desperate to get back to earth and his passion for jazz, Joe leaps into space…and finds himself in the Great Before.
Through a series of misunderstandings and some chicanery on Joe’s part, he winds up as a mentor to Soul #22 (voiced by Tina Fey) , who has spent thousands of years trying to find her “spark” – the overriding interest that will propel her to and through life on earth. As Joe tries to help #22 find a reason to live, he goes on a voyage of discovery through his own life, seeing it (literally) with new eyes.
With Soul, Pixar has produced a masterpiece of a film – but one that might not be suitable for your kids. Sensitive youngsters or those who are frightened by death might find this movie, with its frequent mention of death, distressing. Older or more matter-of-fact kids will be fine and will enjoy the show. As for adults, Soul is a home run. The movie is warm, witty, and clever, with jokes that older viewers will love. (“You can’t crush a soul here. That’s what life on earth’s for.”) The story also acknowledges the challenges we all face as we try to identify our passions, our gifts, and our purpose for living.
Soul might or might not jive with your theological or philosophical views, but I wouldn’t make that the determining factor as to whether or not you watch the movie. Although the script has a clear setting (the Great Before), it is deliberately vague about any kind of religious associations. This is exactly the kind of film that provides a great starting point for discussions with our kids about what they believe about life and death; what they see as their interests and passions; what really matters to them. If we can force ourselves to simply sit back and listen, we can learn a lot about our kids after watching a production like this. And what more can we want from a family movie night?Directed by Pete Docter, Kemp Powers. Starring Jamie Foxx, Tina Fey, Graham Norton. Running time: 100 minutes. Theatrical release December 25, 2020. Updated January 26, 2021
Watch the trailer for Soul
Rating & Content Info
Why is Soul rated PG? Soul is rated PG by the MPAA for thematic elements and some language
Violence: A main character falls down an open manhole and apparently dies. There are frequent mentions of death. A character is repeatedly slapped in the face but feels no pain. Someone throws rocks at other characters. Characters are chased by monster-like figures. A man tosses over several computers. A minor character bites another one’s hand. Someone gets pushed. A cat scratches a person. A monster-type creature eats or absorbs a main character who then enters a vortex and sees frightening figures.
Sexual Content: A man kisses a woman in a non-romantic context.
Profanity: “Hell” is used several times in a quasi-religious context.
Alcohol / Drug Use: None noted.
Page last updated January 26, 2021
Soul Parents' Guide
What do you believe about life and death? Where do those opinions come from? Do you believe in some type of existence before birth? For information about religious beliefs concerning premortal existence, you can check these articles and video links:
Religion Resources Online: Compare Religions: Pre-Mortal Existence of Man
Video: Where Did We Come From?
Video: We Lived with God
In the movie, people who are enjoying “flow” – absorption in some kind of creative endeavor – are very close to the eternal realm. Is there any activity that completely absorbs you? Why do you think this is beneficial?
Very Well Mind: “Flow” Can Help You Achieve Goals
Joe’s passion in life is for jazz – a genre that is losing out in popular culture. To learn more about popular jazz hits, you can listen to this playlist.
Joe also enjoys improvisational jazz. For a basic primer on this kind of spontaneous music, you can watch these videos.
Loved this movie? Try these books…
Books to help your kids find their passions are easy to find. The Doughnut Fix by Jessie Janowitz stars Tristan, an ordinary kid who just wants to bring chocolate cream donuts back to the new town he now lives in. Another youngster has dreams that involve cooking in A Dash of Dragon. This novel by Heidi Lang and Kati Bartkwski features a young woman who’s trying to cook perfect dragon meals while getting away from some ruthless elves. Young royals discover that their talents really are distinctive in Kate Lunn’s picture book, Princesses Are Not Perfect.
Exceptional real life women are the stars of Herstory by Katherina Halligan and Sarah Walsh. If your kids need a bit of inspiration, this is a good place to start.
What if your kids feel like their dreams are too different? Rowboat Watkins has written Most Marshmallows, a story to reassure and inspire kids who have big dreams but don’t feel like they fit in.
Some kids are fascinated by big questions about life and death and others are more apprehensive. If you want a book that takes a tender and sensitive approach to death and loss, try Patrice Karst’s The Invisible String. This sweet book reminds young readers that an invisible string connects them to everyone they love and nothing – not even death – can sever it. Pat Thomas has written a matter-of-fact introduction to the topic in I Miss You: A First Look at Death. This useful picture book explains causes of death, funerals, and the tumultuous emotions that come with loss.
Older viewers who wonder about the purpose of life might be interested in the work of Victor Frankl, a concentration camp survivor who became a psychologist interested in helping people find their purpose. His ideas can be explored in his book, Man’s Search for Meaning.
Related home video titles:
Pixar has handled big issues before. Inside Out maps out a girl’s psyche as the story goes inside her brain to watch her emotions steer her life. Life, aging, and loss are explored with humor and pathos in Up.
The studio goes into the Great Beyond in Coco as it follows an aspiring young musician into the next life to meet his departed relatives and his musical idol. A non-Pixar movie with a similar vibe is The Book of Life, which tells the story of a girl whose deceased love ones interfere with her two suitors.
Pixar also explores the idea of having a passion in life. Ratatouille features a rat with a goal of becoming a chef. Godmothered (by Disney+) reminds us that it’s ok to have different dreams and ideas about what makes us happy.