December 12, 2020


Essentialism, nihilism and existentalism: Pixar makes a different sort of family film (Tara Brady, 12/12/20, Irish Times)

[D]irector and animator Pete Docter, known for his work on Monsters Inc and Inside Out, is surprised to find himself evaluating Being and Nothingness - and himself - on the promotional trail for Soul.

"As a kid all I wanted to be was an animator," he says. "My friends were playing soccer, going on dates and I was in my room making cartoons. I went to a school founded by Walt Disney and I was lucky enough to start at Pixar in 1990 and help to create Toy Story. Animation is what I was born to do. And yet there are some days I find myself thinking: 'Really? Cartoons? This is what I'm doing with my limited time on Earth?'

"So I did a lot of research. I thought about essentialism which, in the West, is an idea that comes from Plato and Aristotle: that you're born with an essence of who you are and your job in life is to discover that. And then there's nihilism and Nietzsche saying there is no such thing as meaning, it's all purposeless and absurd. And then there is Kierkegaard and Sartre and existentialism and the idea that you have to decide for yourself what your purpose is all about. And in the new film we get to put those things into characters."

Soul, which is released on Christmas Day through Disney Plus, introduces Joe Gardner (voiced by Jamie Foxx), a middle-school band teacher who has always dreamed of becoming a professional jazz pianist. When he's offered a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to play with one of the jazz greats, his excitement causes him to miss his footing.

Suddenly, Joe is transported from the streets of New York City to the Great Before: a place where new souls get their personalities. Here, Gardner, a soul who desperately wants to return from death, meets 22 (voiced by Tina Fey), an indefatigable cynic who desperately wants to avoid being born. [...]

An additional set of sensitivities hung around the potential "religious landmine" as Murray calls it.

"We wanted to talk about a lot of the spiritual issues that these religions evoke without saying one religion is right and one religion is wrong," says Docter. "We didn't look to a single religion. There are so many different religious beliefs. You know I think one that did surprise me was Buddhism. Because Buddhism doesn't really believe in the soul in the same way that we do in western cultures.

"The concept of Brahman got very confusing to me. It was one of a couple of different concepts that I needed to learn more about. But in the end we decided - for the sake of simplicity - that we were just going to do this dualistic version of the soul, where you have the body and the spirit.

"It's more of a philosophical discussion about purpose and about the reason for existence than a theological one. What is it we're doing with our lives is a question that transcends the specificity of different religious beliefs. It allows us to talk about life experiences and the meaning of existence."

Docter laughs: "It sounds like a perfect idea for a kids' movie, doesn't it?"

Posted by at December 12, 2020 8:04 AM