Warning: spoilers for Soul are in play. If you haven’t seen the film just yet, then turn your song sheet back a couple pages and rejoin us once you know the tune a bit better.
A piece of sage wisdom that applies to any pursuit, especially storytelling, states roughly that it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish. Movies definitely prove that point, as the world of alternate endings is a place full of rich stories throughout the history of the medium. Well, that history is about to get all the richer, because when it comes to Disney+’s big holiday debut, Soul, several very different endings almost took the place of what the Jamie Foxx starring film eventually ran with.
The various scenarios that could have ended Soul aren’t all that extreme, as seen in producer Dana Murray’s conversation with ET about the film’s finale. In fact, landing on just what the result of protagonist Joe’s adventure would be was pretty difficult. But, the most impactful alternate ending found itself sticking around until the eleventh hour, and Murray described what that original ending would have entailed, as well as why it changed, as follows:
We went back and forth on the ending up until the last screening. For a long time, Joe did go to The Great Beyond. There was a lot of debating back and forth, but I think the more we saw him live his life and just thinking about his mother, Libba, and all these different factors, it felt like the right ending, that he needed to be able to go enjoy his life in the way he wanted to, because he'd learned so much throughout the film.
To be totally honest, watching the adventure of Soul’s core story progressing the way that it did almost feels like it was setting up an ending where Joe stays behind in a world beyond our own. With the theme being learning to live beyond merely chasing a singular purpose throughout your life, Joe’s mentorship of the soul known as “22” helps him see a greater meaning to life. In a bittersweet sort of way, having the aspiring jazz pianist learn this lesson as he’s shuffled off his mortal coil definitely works.
Apparently, though, there was more in play than just the question of whether Joe lived or died at the end of Soul. Rather, there was also a question of just when to pick up with his story once he’d returned to the land of the living. And according to co-writer/co-director Kemp Powers, the decision making process to get to that point was pretty varied as well:
We have versions of the ending where Joe does not go back to his body, where he actually stays dead. We have versions of the ending where you see Joe on Earth a year later. Man, that ending sparked more debate than I think any other element of the film.
As it stands, the ending to Soul that sees Joe returning to his life, playing his big gig, and learning to live life a little more in the here and now is a beautiful affirmation of a groundbreaking sort of story that Pixar is very much used to telling. While that ending may have been hotly debated, the end result is undeniably fitting. However, with the way that Dana Murray was talking about the ending, suggesting there’s another completed finale for the movie floating around out there, we can only hope that the home video version will include this alternate fate in its special features.
For now, you can see Soul, with its current ending, streaming on Disney+, and decide which conclusion you prefer.