Q: Is Soul (dir. Pete Doctor, 2020) a children’s film?
A: Perhaps the best way for me to answer that is to describe the way Soul made me feel (at least for the first half): anxious.
Anxiety can be a powerful tool in the world of filmmaking. It is certainly one of the most difficult and yet one of the most rewarding emotional responses to elicit from an audience. But what happens when this response is unintended, when it is rooted in the viewer’s consideration of the events of their own life rather than those in a film?
To that effect, Soul had a fourth wall-breaking effect to me. While I was fully engaged with the on-screen world, I could not help but feel as though the film was actively suggesting that I reflect on myself. The conclusion felt like an open invitation to learn from Joe, the main character, and to live through a new lens of appreciation in the same way he learns to.
Now, the same can be said of the experience of viewing most of Pixar’s films, which are well known for their fully realized parabolic themes. Often, surprisingly mature topics are considered, but the diverse and agreeable animation styles allow the appeal to extend to both young and old audiences.
Soul stands out as it seems to divulge in a topic that is distinct to an older demographic of viewers. The film wrestles with concepts of existentialism, hedonism, and the afterlife. These are all rooted in the leading question the film poses: what is one’s purpose in life, their “spark”? Applying this question to myself is what inspired my anxious reaction. That reaction was quelled by the second half of the film, in which it is revealed a “spark” is not any specific passion, but rather a more general appreciation for life.
This topic is not exactly respective to an older audience; children are constantly encouraged to consider what they want to be when they grow up. Although I do not think these ideas are debated in the detailed and abstract nature that Soul provides until later in life, when there is a greater expectation for you to declare your “spark”. Soul initially heightens this expectation before seemingly ridding of it entirely in a way that might go over a child viewer’s head.
Even still, the message of the film is positive, and the way it plants the seeds of these notions in the minds of a younger audience may have a positive influence, even if they don’t appreciate it at the time. So, while I hesitate to personally proclaim Soul as a children’s film, I think it can be a good thing that it is still advertised as such.
Soul is currently streaming on Disney Plus.