How to Watch Disney Pixar’s “Soul” with Your Child
At this point, many are familiar with Disney Pixar’s Soul. The spiritual subject matter alone made sure it would show up on most Christians’ radar. In particular, Christian parents are trying to discern how they should approach the movie. Should they let their kids watch it? If so, how should they talk about it?
Some have chosen to steer their children away due to Soul’s overtly unbiblical spirituality. Indeed, the movie presents the spiritual world as a hodgepodge of New Age ideals with a heaping dose of entertainment value. The “end” is simply the “great beyond” with no reference to God, final reward, or final judgment. The universe is impersonal and can be cheated. And the body and soul are so divorced that a soul can inhabit any other body, human, or animal. These concerns are fair. Many children lack mature discernment, and the unbiblical spirituality wrapped in vivid imagery and likable characters could prove confusing. How many adults have had their view of heaven shaped primarily by Heaven Is for Real?
Others have been impressed with the good found in the movie, noting the redemptive themes it portrays—without discounting the confusing spirituality. This is an approach that asks, “What good shines through this movie?” And in Soul, there is much good. The jazz is nice. The characters are genuinely enjoyable. Most importantly, the central theme of the movie is surprisingly refreshing. The main character, Joe Gardner, wants so badly to make something of himself. But when he does, he remains unsatisfied. Jazz is his passion, but Joe learns that “a passion is not a purpose.” Instead of identity, happiness, and purpose being found in the next big achievement, Joe realizes they are instead found in the midst of “regular old living.”
A Different Approach
My goal is not to dictate whether the spiritual content or redemptive themes should sway your family’s decision to view Soul. My goal instead is to offer a different approach altogether for considering the value of any film. And that is to ask the question: “What is this movie saying?” Or put another way: “What is the worldview behind this movie’s message?”
The movie’s message is important but so are the assumptions the movie makes about the world that lead to its message. I believe that considering a movie’s worldview is the best way to help you determine whether to let your child view this film and how to think through it with them. With that in mind, let’s consider Soul’s primary message.
“A Passion Is Not a Purpose”
At face value, the message of this movie appears to be “a passion is not a purpose.” But behind this message are unspoken assumptions that shape the true message because the movie at least implies what our “purpose” actually should be.
When Joe Gardner meets the “great beyond,” he meets an impartial, uninspiring eternity. He finds no benevolent God to worship, nor any implication of final judgment or final reward—just an escalator leading into a bright light. Joe, unwilling to accept his fate, is able to dupe the spirit realm and return to earth by sheer force of will, albeit temporarily in a cat’s body.
Joe is so determined to defeat death because he believes he was just about to begin “living.” Clearly, the eternity he witnesses pales in comparison to the best his life on earth can offer. But upon returning and achieving his dream, he is left emptier than before.
Soul then offers what it believes to be the solution. The purpose of life is found not in achievement, but in the little pleasures that make life enjoyable. At this revelation, Joe leaps at his chance to delay eternity and have a few more years to enjoy these simple pleasures. So, does message this line up with the Christian worldview?
To Live Is Christ and to Die Is Gain
Stuck in prison and abandoned by many of his friends, the Apostle Paul reflects on life in Philippians 1:12-26. The gospel is advancing in the midst of, and even because of, his difficult situation. And because of this, he rejoices. But he acknowledges that he would much rather be with God. He summarizes his tension, the tension all Christians should experience, in 1:21, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”
Soul misses Paul’s mark in both directions. With no compelling afterlife offering any clear rewards, dying seems like only an inevitability, certainly not a gain. And with no clear judgment at the end and no God to worship, the best one can hope for in this life is the best of this life. As much as Soul’s message seems revolutionary, it still preaches the same message: “Live your best life.” They have simply redefined our best life.
Is This Disney Movie Different?
Anything we build our lives on outside of God qualifies as an idol. Soul exposes one cultural idol—success—but simply replaces it with another—simple pleasures. Christians, however, live for a greater purpose: glorifying God in everything we do (2 Cor. 5:9). Soul presents “regular old living” not as the context for glorifying God but as the end in and of itself.
It is tempting to think that Disney Pixar’s Soul bucks the typical Disney narrative. But it is not that different. Like every modern cultural narrative, the story shifts true joy and meaning away from the vertical and onto the horizontal. The message may not be “find yourself” or “be yourself,” but it is still “be about yourself.” It is self-actualization, just with a different leaning. It is yet another attempt to find happiness without God in the picture.
Where Soul’s Message Falls Short
Ultimately, embracing Soul’s message wholeheartedly will result in disappointment because it fails to grapple with the reality of “regular old living” in a fallen, broken world. For some, “regular old living” is not that enjoyable. Even Joe’s ordinary, boring life seems to be free of some of life’s major horrors: debilitating illness, paralysis, torture, war. But what if life rips away all enjoyment from Joe’s life? Or more pointedly, what if arthritis takes away Joe’s ability to play the piano? Is life still worth living?
Soul fails to answer this question because it does not have an answer. It is true that much of what makes life enjoyable are the simple evidences of God’s grace wrapped up in pizza, music, and family. But even if those fail, only Christians can see both a reason to live and the greater joy awaiting them. And so, if you decide to have a Soul movie night, use the weak message it presents to point your child to a better one—joyful, regular old living for God’s glory while we wait for our eternal reward.