Pete Docter, Kemp Powers
Jamie Foxx, Tina Fey
Pixar Animation Studios
1 hr. 40 min.
Ages 11 and Under
Male and Female
Soul centers on an unappreciative middle school music teacher named Joe who wants to be in a live jazz band. Yet his mother prefers he stay in his current job and not pursue music performance as a career, even though Joe insists that’s his only purpose in life. One day, he is talking on his phone while walking down the street, and he falls down a pothole to his death. He lands in what seems to be outer space, on an escalator leading up to what looks like a cluster of stars coming into a single light. That is called the “Great Beyond,” the Pixar version of the afterlife, which is overseen by giant beings that break the laws of physics in their bodies, even though there’s no mention of any supreme deity who rules over them. But he jumps off the escalator, landing in the “Great Before,” where souls are developed before being born on earth. He is mistaken for a mentor, and is assigned to problematic soul number 22, who’s such a pain that she’s been rejected even by Mother Teresa, Copernicus, Muhammad Ali, Marie Antoinette, and Abraham Lincoln, all her past mentors. Joe has to ensure she’s ready for life on earth, which she doesn’t want because she thinks it’s a “hellish” place.
When Joe first lands in the Great Before, he asks whether if he’s in Heaven or “H-E-L-L,” so he is clearly like many non-Christians around the world who fear whether Hell is a real place, so much so, the name alone has bite to it. But that really could be just the staff at Pixar who’s afraid of this place, and thus created this fantasy world to falsely tell their audience that life after death is nothing to be afraid of. (Matthew 10:28, Matthew 25:41-46, Revelation 20:15, Revelation 21:8)
The problem is they can’t even do that right, as this “Great Before” is very much from an American perspective, despite being the creation-grounds for every soul across the whole world. For one: they all speak English, despite a massive percentage of them being born into non-English speaking families, and despite the fact that they haven’t even been born yet, so naturally shouldn’t be able to speak at all. To make it even more questionable, the souls in one scene are casually assigned by their supervisor whatever negative traits they’ll have in their lives, such as “self-absorbed.”
Then there’s the portion of the film when Joe makes it back to earth, but this time with himself in a cat’s body and 22 in his own body. This almost feels like a reference to Buddhist reincarnation, where Joe has to be reborn as another species and die over and over again (he’s now in a body that gives him nine chances to do it) before he learns his lesson. This of course is a belief that strictly goes against the Bible. (Hebrews 9:27)
During this body swap, Joe gives 22 the chance to experience the joys of living, which includes how good food and music are. After a couple of these brief lessons, 22 starts indulging on lollipops, and talks one of Joe’s students out of quitting music. But then 22 sets Joe up in an incident where he has no choice but to let his mother know about a new jazz band he’s just joined. The way these events play out follow the typical Disney fashion by saying that the parents should cave and let their kids follow their dreams, that it’s the father and mother who must honor the child, not the other way around like the Bible instructs. (Exodus 20:12, Deuteronomy 5:16, Proverbs 23:22, Proverbs 30:17, Matthew 15:4, Ephesians 6:1-3) Then after another few events, Joe gets back in his body, performs in this band, but still isn’t happy. He hits the realization that he has been working toward the top thinking that his passion will satisfy, when really the only thing that satisfies is appreciating the gift of life. While there is truth to this message, there’s a crucial component that proves life still isn’t worth living in Joe’s case: where’s Jesus in all this? Without Jesus, nobody can ever enjoy life to its full potential. (John 15:5)
However, no part of the film has a more dangerous message than the ending, when Joe accepts his death and is on the escalator to the Great Beyond, but because he inspired the others overseeing the cosmos, he gets a second chance to live. Except the leaders break the rules so he can avoid the Great Beyond, by tricking the counter of the souls the same way a kid distracts his brother so he can steal his cookie. So that apparently means supernatural beings can never be trusted and you can cheat death for your own benefit. What kind of message is that to teach kids? (1 John 2:15-17)
Death must be taken seriously and not turned into a little playground of imagination like Pixar did with this stark piece of common fear a lot of non-Christians share. We together live within the same mass of stars, insignificant against others shining in the sky, and trying to aim higher is completely futile. (Genesis 11:1-9) Instead of trying to be the brightest star, know that eternity lasts infinitely longer than anybody’s life on earth lasts; (James 4:14) in that perspective, your problems on earth seem quite insignificant compared to the almighty God who gives life.