Exploring Life & Death with Soul

Pixar movies are beloved by both children and adults for their creative stories, well-developed characters, and beautiful visuals. One of my favorite things about these movies is that they often explore complex themes in a child-friendly way. Soul, Pixar’s newest release, deals with the concepts of identity, purpose, inspiration, and passions, and death, making it a great jumping-off point for spiritual discussions.

Joe Gardner is a middle school band teacher with aspirations of playing in a jazz band. He finally gets his big break to play with his idol when he accidentally walks into an uncovered maintenance hole and dies. His soul is frantic to get back to his body so he can fulfill the gig. Joe thinks he has found a way when he is assigned to mentor 22, a soul who does not want to live. The rest of the film is devoted to helping both Joe and 22 learn what it means to be alive.

Here are a few questions to explore with your child after watching the film. 

What makes you, you?  

In the movie, each new soul has several stickers that represent different parts of their personality. Invite your kids to think about what their stickers would be. Have them draw their stickers to create their own Earth badge.

What is your spark?

Joe is tasked with helping 22 find her spark. Initially, he thought one’s spark was related to one’s life purpose, but one of the Jerries explains that the spark is nothing as narrow as a purpose, it is instead what makes life worth living. For 22, these things are delicious cheesy pizza, a musician playing in the subway, and leaves blowing on the sidewalk. Begin a discussion with your child about what makes life special for them. You can even make this conversation more active by gathering items that make life special and making a display.

Who or what inspires you?

One of the themes running through Soul is the idea of inspiration or passion. Joe is inspired by the music he hears at the jazz club his dad takes him to as a child; it fosters a passion for music and takes him down the road of playing professionally and teaching middle school band. Dez, Joe’s barber, has a passion for helping people. He talks with them and gives them a good haircut, healing body and soul at the same time.

Many people and things inspire us. Explore with your child what inspires them by asking one or more of these questions:

  • What do you want to be when you grow up? Why?
  • Who do you admire?  Why?
  • What is something you like to do that is really important to you?
  • What do you wish was a part of your life every day?

What does your soul look like?

Various cultures and religions have different concepts of the soul. Pixar used nature as their inspiration to create souls that were amorphous and shapeshifting. While the souls all look similar, there are some unique differences, like Joe’s hat and glasses or 22’s prominent front teeth. Ask your child to create a picture of their soul (on paper or with a software program) and share their picture with you. 

What happens after you die?

Children who talk with adults about death before a loss often have better coping abilities and less anxiety when a death eventually happens. When Joe dies, his soul appears on a moving walkway heading toward a bright light called the Great Beyond. This image, as well as the plot of Soul, make the movie a great springboard for imaginative discussions about dying and death. Try one or more of these questions to help you and your child explore what happens after you die: 

  • Why is Joe scared of the Great Beyond?
  • Why do other people on the escalator seem unafraid of the Great Beyond?
  • If you were making a movie, how would you depict Joe’s death?
  • What do you think happens to people after they die?
  • Do you think you have a soul? Why or why not?
  • What do you want to happen when you die?

 

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