What is the message of Pixar’s soul? – Pixar’s Soulful Lessons on the Meaning of Life

With everything we’ve been through in 2020, and with this tumultuous, isolating year drawing to a close, there’s never been a better time to look inside and think about what we’re all doing on this great earth in the first place. So it’s fitting that Pixar’s new offering, Soul, will reflect on just that. While New York jazz musician Joe Gardner is suspended between life and death in “The Great Before,” we look at what Pixar has taught us about the meaning of life-and why it’s worth living-through his favorite movies so far. We’re not crying, you’re crying.…

Lesson 1: Follow Your Soul’s Passion

Pixar’s Ratatouille shows that genuine “appeal” combined with talent and determination can enable someone to achieve a life goal far beyond what is expected of them. Remy is a stranger in his vast rodent family, a unique soul marked by his demanding taste and extraordinary ability to create recipes. Even during your humble beginnings in rural France, you can spin your own mixes with natural products while your family settles for literal trash.

Remy and linguini in Ratatouille.

Inspired by the posthumous spirit of legendary chef Gusto, Remy decides that he will be a chef, but he must prepare the reality for this dream on his own. After making a deal with linguini, the hapless guy from Gusto’s kitchen, he steps through the door. Letting her skills shine by experimenting with recipes, Remy shows off her talent. Even when he can’t overcome the final hurdle of becoming a celebrity chef, the fact that he’s, well, a rat can still fulfill his fantasy of owning an exclusive Parisian restaurant, earning the favor of the infamous food critic Anton Ego. He overcomes the disapproval of his family, the risk of being discovered and, even worse, exterminated, in order to claim the purpose of his soul.

Remy and Linguini in Ratatouille.
Remy and Linguini in Ratatouille.

Inspired by the posthumous spirit of the legendary Chef Gusteau, Remy decides he’s going to be a chef — but he has to cook up a reality to this dream all on his own. By striking a deal with Linguini, Gusteau’s hapless kitchen boy, he gets his foot in the door. Allowing his skills to shine as he experiments with recipes, Remy proves his talent. Even when he can’t overcome the final hurdle to becoming a celebrated chef — the fact that he’s, well, a rat — he’s still able to realise his fantasy of owning an exclusive Parisian restaurant, by winning the favour of infamous food critic, Anton Ego. He overcomes his family’s disapproval, the risk of being found out, and — even worse — exterminated, to claim his soul’s purpose.

“Not everyone can become a great artist, but a great artist can come from anywhere.” — Anton Ego

As ego says, not everyone is blessed with a raw talent like Remy. Monsters University shows that following a dream doesn’t always go according to plan, sometimes life has a different idea. Mike Wazowski will find out the hard way. Through Monsters,, we got to know Wazowski as Sally’s right-hand man, as he supported his partner in being one of the company’s best scarers. But in the Pixar prequel, we learned that Mike’s original dream was to be a scarecrow. In fact, he loved him even more than his best friend.

After visiting the terrified floor of Monsters, Inc. on a school trip, Mike makes the ambition of his life to build a career there. He has the determination, the intelligence of a book, the willingness to devote his time to practice – all of which is enough to get him into Monster University. However, the missing ingredient, natural talent, keeps you from the career you crave. A message not often displayed in family movies, Pixar addresses the harsh reality that determination can take you so far if you don’t have a natural gift. More importantly, they show that there is no single way to realize their potential.

Monsters University Mike Wazowski
Mike Wazowski’s bags are packed in Monsters University.

Mike has something that he didn’t even realize was his greatest strength – bravery. Against the odds, he puts together a team that almost wins the Scare Games, and risks being banished to impress Dean Hardscrabble with his scare skills. Even after he misses his shot, he isn’t afraid to climb the ranks in an unconventional way and takes Sally on a journey with him. Starting with the cleaners at Monsters Inc. they play a long game until they finally become one of the best companies scaring teams. Mike is still living his dream of working on this scary floor, but as a coach is a much more suitable role for his talents.

Summary: If you have a strong passion or “challenge” in life, follow it. You will probably discover the true realization of your soul and a sense of purpose, whether you land where you thought you would or not. It is better to follow this dream than to spend your life thinking about what could have been.

Lesson 2: Every Soul Needs A Mate

Achieving your individual goals is a valid life ambition, but the soul can’t be fully satisfied if it doesn’t bring others back – after all, we’re all in this together. Some of Pixar’s most beloved characters find satisfaction – and a place in our hearts – for their unrestrained need to help and support their neighbor-or a toy.

Pixar’s first film shows the power of bringing back others, with perhaps its most iconic character: Woody. In Toy Story, Woody’s self-proclaimed goal in life is to be there for his owner, Andy. In their opinion, life is simply not worth living if you are not loved by a child, and to win this love, you must be available to them 24/7. It’s a noble goal, and one that Woody has clung to over the years, despite many obstacles, trying to steer him away from Andy – whether it’s almost being snatched away by evil neighbor Sid, almost being sold to a museum in Japan, or being imprisoned by a strawberry-smelling bear.

Toy Story
Woody comes to achieve meaning without Andy.

Along the way, however, Woody learns that it’s just as important to take care of his friends as their owner, perhaps even more so. As a human, Andy sees Woody as a child’s toy, and he doesn’t return the same affection as Woody, but Buzz, Jesse, and the gang do. As soon as woody gaining the confidence of his fellow toys and helps them, and he rewarded their help and emotional support in return. Woody finally gets to a place where life is still worth living, whether he keeps Andy or not.

“Woody once risked his life to save me. I couldn’t call myself a friend if I didn’t want to do the same.”- Buzz Lightyear

In WALL-E, one of Pixar’s most existential films to date, one character’s love for another literally saves the world. Stuck in a lonely existence on the abandoned planet Earth, WALL-E diligently fulfills its task of cleaning up the mess left by humans. But there’s one thing missing from their lonely existence: a partner to take care of. It’s very romantic for a droid. When the mysterious new robot Eve descends from heaven, it’s love at first sight, and WALL-E will do anything to earn her affection, convinced that she’s her soul mate.


WALL-E’s ambition to live happily ever after with Eve is not only appealing, but ultimately vital to humanity’s survival. By giving the plant he found to Eve, he proves that there is life on Earth, and she can fulfill her directive to start populating the planet. His next Eva in the axiom, the spaceship where humans now live, provides the support needed to accomplish his goal. Realizing how important the plant is to Eve, WALL-E is sure to protect it at all costs, preventing it from being destroyed by an onboard computer that would doom humans for hundreds of years in space.

Once Eve realizes how long WALL-E has come to protect and care for her, she matches her love. After it is severely damaged in action, she puts the ship into hyperjump to return to Earth, both for the sake of humanity and to find the missing pieces to save her new knight in shining armor. Driven by their love for each other, they not only find happiness, but also save the human race and inspire humanity to rebuild the planet with its history of connection.

Summary: The desire to love and help others will not only add purpose to your own life and fuel your soul, but will also create huge domino effects for society as a whole. Leadership for altruism will make the planet a better place to live, and kindness will return to your path.

Lesson 3: A hundred souls is better than one

If we’ve learned one thing this year, it’s that collective effort can make a big difference in the world. Solo ambitions may take you so far, but you must muster troops if you want to incite real change. Pixar shows this in action at some point in most of its films, and always starts with the character taking the lead.

The studio’s second feature film, The Life of a Bug, begins as a story about a character’s quest to impress their community and become a hero. Flick, a well-meaning if eccentric inventor, wants to prove that he is useful to his ant colony by rationalizing his efforts to collect food for himself and the grasshoppers with his gadgets. However, he finds a much bigger target waiting for him.

Flik in A Bug's Life.
Flik in A Bug’s Life.

After accidentally destroying the colony’s food supplies, and being the only one to deal with the bullying grasshoppers who demand their share, Flick abandons the colony in a panic. He is cast on a “mission” to recruit insect warriors to help them resist the ant suppressors, and no one expected the results. However, it turns out that Flick has a more effective skill than his inventing skills: getting people to rally around his cause.

While the circus insects he encounters are unaware that they are part of a plot to defeat the grasshoppers, Flick deftly encourages them with the promise of a performance, winning their friendship and loyalty in the process. Even when the original plan to scare the grasshoppers with a fake bird goes wrong, Flick has proven that a collective effort can lead the colony to victory. With the rest of the ants on his side, Flick inspires them to be brave, and they all stand together – the grasshoppers outnumber him a hundred to one, and are banished once and for all.

“You let the ant stand in front of us, then they can all stand up!” – bunker

Almost 20 years later, another young protagonist has a huge impact on the ability to bring others together, in Pixar’s Coco. Like Remy before him, Miguel’s family is not on board with their passion-in this case-to become a famous musician. The Rivera family banished music from their home, after it was believed that Miguel’s great-great-grandfather had abandoned his wife and son to pursue a career in the industry. The offending ancestor was removed from the offering, and so his spirit is sent to the Land of the Dead, so he will eventually disappear. Fortunately, Miguel’s desire to pursue his dream at the expense of his family’s wishes catapults him on a journey that will heal his entire bloodline.

Miguel in Coco.
Miguel in Coco.

After accidentally arriving in the Land of the Dead, Miguel’s priority-at the beginning-is to meet his hero, whom he considers his great-grandfather, the famous musician Ernesto de la Cruz. He wants his blessing to return to the Land of the Living and become a musician, despite the objections of his family. However, he soon learns the truth about what actually happened several generations ago: that his real great-great-grandfather did not want to leave his family at all, and the shadow hanging over the Rivers should not be there.

Miguel is responsible for preserving Hector’s memory and bringing him back to the family, uniting him with his wife and explaining the situation. Most powerful of all is Miguel’s rendition of “Remember Me,” a song Hector wrote for his little Coco that reminds the now-elderly daughter of her father’s love. The whole family is united by Miguel’s efforts, and music enters the house after generations of silence.

Summary: If we all make an effort to come together, we can leave the world a better place than we found it, in big and small ways. Fortunately, there are some souls in life who find it within themselves to pave the way.

Lesson 4: Adventure there

Whether it’s achieving a professional goal, helping others, fighting climate change, or just spending the Day, one way to look at life is to have a big choice of your own adventure.The adventure is at the heart of Pixar’s stories, as characters overcome fear and test skills to unlock parts of their souls they never dreamed of.

Finding Nemo

Facing fear in Finding Nemo.

Finding Nemo introduces us to a father and son, both very much in need of an adventure. Nemo’s father, Marlin, lost almost everything after his wife and children, except Nemo, were brutally killed by a Barracuda. Naturally, he is obsessed with the safety of his only remaining child and makes it his life’s goal to protect him from any possible harm. So when Nemo disappears, he loses all of his self-esteem and desperately needs it.

Against his aversion to risk, Marlin’s paternal instinct negates his fear, and he finds himself facing opponents he never dreamed of, hiding in his anemone. With their new partner Dory firmly on their side, the pair encounter sharks, whales, jellyfish and more on their epic journey across the ocean. In the process, Marlin has an epiphany: if Nemo is protected from everything, his life won’t be worth it. He discovers that his son has not only been able to survive, but thrive in his absence, and the pair find themselves closer and more fulfilled, telling each other about their solo adventures, freeing them from fear.

Finding Nemo

Dory, Marlin, and Bruce in Finding Nemo.

Forward again shows that hiding from risks will not allow you to live life to the fullest. It also teaches another important lesson: you will find satisfaction when you appreciate what you already have. Ian and Barley’s quest to bring their father back to life for a day ends up being a journey of self-discovery for the younger brother.

The shy Ian, who has never met his father, is convinced that his only chance to talk to him will give him the confidence he needs to live. However, it becomes clear that he had the ability to do great things all along. With the breath of his older brother, Ian completes an epic quest, crosses chasms, engages in a high-speed car chase, and brings magic back to the world. He already had a fatherly figure to guide him at every turn – barley.

Barley is a father-figure to Ian in Onward.

It would be an omission to talk about the adventure of life, let alone the touching, high-flying Pixar: Up. The studio’s tenth feature film perfectly explores the interpretation of adventure itself and what constitutes a well-lived life. Carl and Ellie have always dreamed of becoming real explorers, planning to go to Paradise Falls on a glorious expedition one day. However, life gets in the way, and his ambitious dream, like the dream of starting a family, is not realized. Karl is left devastated, feeling that the couple has never been able to fulfill their biggest wish in life.

Carl in Up
Adventure unlocks human connection for Carl in Up.

However, after an unexpected journey to the same place they were aiming to visit alone, Karl’s dangerous adventure helps him see his whole life from a different perspective. While he has a lifetime of experience flying thousands of miles, meeting exotic birds and talking dogs, and defeating a supervillain, Carl’s biggest reward is to meet Russell, a young nature explorer who celebrates the journey. Carl remembered the warm sense of human connection and the sense of purpose in caring for another person. When she discovers the last page of Ellie’s adventure book, the message is clear: sharing the ups and downs of life with another person is her own adventure.

Summary: whatever you decide to do with your life, embrace it in all its colors. Do your best to get out of your comfort zone, but appreciate what you already have. No one really knows the meaning of life, but enjoy it while it lasts – and all the adventure, love, and company of the soul that comes with it.

Soul arrives on Disney+ on December 25.

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