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Life Arts    H4'ed 3/14/21

Pixar's "Soul": Profound Spiritual Wisdom from a Soulless Corporation

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Pixar's Soul - Official Trailer 2 Life is full of possibilities, you just have to know where to look. Watch the new trailer for Disney and Pixar's Soul, streaming this Christmas only on Disney+.
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Isn't it ironic that one of the most powerful businesses in the world, the Disney conglomerate, has ended up being one of our nation's most effective spiritual teachers?

I mean, in Disney you have a typical heartless corporation that controls so much of our deceitful mainstream media and our superficial entertainment industry. Yet that very transnational firm has consistently produced popular art that calls viewers to introspection, identification with wildlife and nature, and to qualities of generosity, selflessness, and love.

I'm thinking of celebrated productions like "The Lion King," "Beauty and the Beast," and even "Bambi." Arguably, such animated films issue more effective calls to spiritual values (especially to the young) than do most churches.

How that's possible remains a mystery to me. It's probably because even Disney Productions discerns a deep hunger for meaning in audiences throughout the world. So, in its effort to enhance its bottom line, it acquires scripts authored by spiritually attuned writers. But that's only a guess.

The Film

Nevertheless, that was probably the case with Disney's latest issuance, "Soul" whose screenplay was written by Pete Docter, Mike Jones and Kemp Power s. It's a charming, comedic yet penetrating probe into the meaning of life and death. Its depiction of the afterlife suggests characterization as a poor man's version of Dante's Divine Comedy. It has all the ingredients: a guided trip through the great beyond, a painful process of purgation, and finally arrival at peaceful beatitude.

(At this point, some might think it appropriate to give a "spoiler alert," though that hardly seems necessary for a spiritually themed work like "Soul." After all, it's not some cliffhanger. In any case, be forewarned.)

More specifically, as Disney's first all-black production, "Soul" tells the story of Joe Gardner (Jamie Foxx), a frustrated middle school band teacher obsessed with jazz and landing his dream job of playing piano in a quartet headed by a diva saxophonist named Dorothea Williams.

Joe is himself an unappreciated musical genius as becomes evident every time his riffs transport him into the "Zone" of his prodigious brilliance. In his audition for the Williams quartet, the diva immediately recognizes Joe's talent and hires him on the spot.

Joe is overjoyed. On his way home, he practically floats and dances down the streets of NYC. In his distracted oblivion he is narrowly missed by busses, cars, motorcycles and bikes. However, Joe himself doesn't miss an open manhole, which swallows him up and apparently ends his life.

The next thing he knows, he's is in the afterlife on his way towards the Bright Light invariably reported in the accounts of most near-death experiences (NDE). But possessed by his obsession with finally realizing his dream job, Joe refuses to die.

The Underworld

So, instead of escalating into the world of light, he's returned to heaven's underworld - a kind of limbo - a so-called "Youth Seminar" where unborn souls are prepared by the recently departed to enter into bodies on planet earth. There Joe is introduced to a rebellious unborn soul (Tina Fey) called #22 (seemingly because she was the 22nd soul ever created).

Despite its status as a truly "old soul," #22 has remained unembodied for eons because she finds the prospect of life on earth boring. No mentor, no matter how prestigious - not Copernicus, Marie Antoinette, Abraham Lincoln, Karl Jung, George Orwell, Mother Theresa, or Muhammad Ali - has been able to successfully coax 22 to incarnate on the Milky Way's "stinky rock," where she knows that life is inevitably soul crushing.

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Mike Rivage-Seul is a liberation theologian and former Roman Catholic priest. Retired in 2014, he taught at Berea College in Kentucky for 40 years where he directed Berea's Peace and Social Justice Studies Program. His latest book is (more...)
 

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