Spoilers are ahead for Pixar’s Soul, which is now streaming on Disney+.
Growing up at the dawn of Pixar's theatrical era was truly even more important to my childhood than I may have expected when I was a kid. Yes, I technically gravitated more to Disney’s musicals when I was younger, memorizing the songs and dressing up as princesses. Still, Pixar movies were just as important to me. Whether it be the original Toy Story movies, Monsters Inc or WALL-E, looking back, they seem to have resonated within me as treasured and vivid memories. Now between 2015’s Inside Out and the recent release of Soul, the animation studio has dared to go a lot more philosophical and existential than when I was first introduced to the company, but that doesn’t mean that Pixar isn’t as important to a young audience anymore.
Ever since we heard about Soul, there’s been an ongoing conversation about how Pixar has perhaps crossed a line into adult territory for this one. Going into it, I definitely thought that that might be my point of view. But as the emotional ending played out for Joe and 22, and the credits rolled, I found myself having an opposite reaction than this. I wish I’d had it as a kid, and I cannot wait for this generation to grow up with this movie by their side. Let’s get into why I think Soul was more for kids than you might expect:
22 Is An Accessible Tour Guide Through Soul
Soul was a lot more accessible to a younger generation in my view thanks to Tina Fey’s 22. If we’d just been going through Joe’s life and death without her perspective, I’d agree with the opinion that Soul is purely an adult film, but that just wasn’t the case. 22 is the “before” soul that Joe meets after he breaks out of the line to the Great Beyond and crafts a plan to get back into his body. From an adult’s perspective, yes, 22 has an emotional and deep journey that is arguably just as profound (even more so?) than Joe’s realization about his life. But she also plays the role of the kid who is learning about the world of humanity and seeking to understand why it’s a valid place to be a part of.
On some level, how far off is 22’s journey away from what actual kids are doing everyday? We’re always seeking to understand our environment and why things are, and Soul’s 22 is the perfect window into this. I mean, how often as a kid did you look at one of your parents or teachers and become curious about why they do what they do or say what they say? A child isn’t going to be actively aware of how they can associate with 22, but through Tina Fey’s character injecting her blunt comedy and fun bits, it hits the all-ages mark.
The Cute Body Swap Bit With Mr. Mittens
Another aspect of Soul that makes it a lot more kid-friendly that I expected is a large chunk of the movie taking place on Earth with Joe being in the body of a therapy cat named Mr. Mittens and 22 being in the body of Joe. The Soul trailers did not set us up for how fun the movie was going to be in the middle chunk of the film, and I think that worked to the movie’s benefit. I was worried that the movie was going to journey too far into the metaphysical and perhaps try to explain what happens after we die, but most of Soul is actually grounded on Earth in the here and now for most of its runtime.
Throughout the adorable body swap bit between Joe and Mr. Mittens, audiences can digest the messages being placed in front of them from a place of lightness and adventure that felt needed to make the film entertaining, as well as let in a wider audience and make it a universal viewing experience. As a kid, you might only gravitate towards the cat eating the pizza and Joe embarrassing himself all over the city because it’s an outrageous and fun situation that’s memorable. It’s not often until later where we truly understand the deeper meanings a movie is tackling.
Kids Grapple With Death And ‘Purpose’ Too
I also think it would be naive to think that kids are not as affected as the themes being presented in Soul as adults are. Every kid confronts the concepts of death, whether it be through a family member’s circumstances or by seeing a villain fall in a pit in a cartoon. It’s an innate human idea that we learn about and continue to process throughout our lives. Why is an existential film about finding our “purpose” expected to be an adult concept?
A major component to Soul that I wish I could share to my younger self is this idea of “getting there" or needing to have a “purpose” in a certain aspect of life. It can set one up for disappointment when "purpose" does not fill you on its own. It's something that so drilled into us as a kid – to aspire to greatness. But so often the “greatness” we're expected to aspire to is some incredible dream that will validate us as humans to society. Soul challenges this, and if more of us had this as a kid, maybe we’d challenge it more often too in our everyday lives and value life more presently, collectively.
Growing Up With Pixar’s Soul Will Be Even More Rewarding
With all that being said, my conclusion about Soul is it’s a movie for everyone, even kids; but perhaps one you may not need and fully understand until one is older. But there’s a beauty to seeing a Pixar movie as a kid, because part of it will sink in without even knowing it. Every time someone who grew up with Soul watches it in a new stage of their life it will mean something else to them and they’ll slowly pull back the layers of the deeper meanings within it. Obviously all Pixar movies and animated films should not and will not be this deep and emotional, and Soul is an ambitious and odd project for Pixar. But I’m certainly happy it exists and excited to see the studio explore new avenues with every new release.
What do you think? Is Soul for adults, kids or everyone in between? Vote in our poll below and check out what’s new to Disney+ in January here on CinemaBlend.