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‘Dreams’ aren’t the end-all, be-all in ‘Soul’ (and that’s okay)

[Warning: This article contains spoilers.]

I had always been ready to answer my cousin’s questions until this one came: “Does everyone need to have a dream?”

It was a few weeks before Christmas and an eternity into quarantine. Like the closing shot of a disaster film, reaching the end of 2020 is akin to seeing a huge ass dumpster fire present its baby dumpster fires. On most days, it’s not just about questioning the possibility of a good future anymore but if we’ll ever see a future after all this. 

Life was already a fucking race before this—and now we’re just gasping for air.

With the pandemic’s uncertainty, will we ever chase our dreams again? Will our productivity ever amount to something? What if we die without following our life’s purpose? Life was already a fucking race before this—and now we’re just gasping for air. 

So yes, if my younger self had to answer that question, she would most likely say, “Of course anyone should have a dream. It doesn’t matter how long until you realize it. You just have to have it. How would you live your life otherwise?” 

Then, I would see pre-accident Joe Gardner, Pixar’s protagonist in “Soul” (also Pixar’s first Black lead), sitting across me—nodding in approval, probably with stacks of his favorite jazz records in one hand.

Joe is the textbook definition of a big dreamer. Especially in his adult years, all his actions point towards the attainment of his dreams. This is his entire ethos. Even his go-to barber says so—all he talks about is jazz.

However, just when he is about to start his Big Break, Joe falls into a “manhole accident.” His soul ends up in The You seminar, a place where protean souls train and find passions before being transported back to Earth. Part of this stint is reaching The Great Before, a place straight out of a video game-whimsical fantasy fusion—and this is where he meets 22. 

Cynical and stubborn, 22 is Joe’s complete opposite. She’s the ultimate overstayer in The Great Before, a testament to her refusal to return to Earth for eons because she sees no point in living. Unfortunately (or fortunately?), folks at The You seminar assign Joe and 22 to be partners. His mission? Let 22 find her “spark” in life.

Much like her roster of famous mentors like Nicolaus Copernicus and Mother Teresa, Joe’s passion-rich personality doesn’t convince 22. First of all, she easily gets bored with music. Second, she’s convinced that she doesn’t have any “dream” in life. But all hell breaks loose when a metaphysical mess unfolds: 22’s soul gets transferred to Joe’s body, while Joe’s takes over a cat’s body. 

Paired with a consistently stunning backdrop, Joe and 22 embark on a push-pull journey of losing and finding themselves. Soon enough, 22 realizes the beauty of life in Joe’s shoes—and this isn’t entirely based on the music teacher’s big, big dream. 

Her impression of Earth slowly changes not only when the body she’s in gets recognized for talent, but also when it connects with the little things: a pizza slice, a leaf, sunlight, conversations in the barbershop, the feeling of walking on pavements. Heck, she even develops a penchant for music. 

When Joe returns to his OG body and continues his postponed gig, which is a precursor of daily gigs he’s now committed to, he goes through an epiphany: Aside from jazz, where does he find his “spark”?

His bandmate’s metaphor says it all: A fish swims up to an older fish and says: “I’m trying to find this thing they call the ocean.” 

“The ocean?” the older fish says, ‘that’s what you’re in right now.’ But the young fish replies, “This is water. What I want is the ocean!”

Yes, the film inspired me to reach my dream. But it also made me realize that it’s okay to step away from it sometimes. Because surprise, surprise,  dreams can also be a little less overwhelming and far-fetched. 

Going back to my cousin’s question, I still think everyone should have a dream but it doesn’t need to be that “dream” dream. 

The reason for your excitement today could be your warm dinner. Or a call from a friend, or maybe your favorite song making it on the radio. Is the chase for a dream enough to push away actual living?

The reason for your excitement today could be your warm dinner. Or a call from a friend, or maybe your favorite song making it on the radio. Is the chase for a dream enough to push away actual living? 

Being driven by a dream—and making it your purpose—is one of the best feelings to ever exist. But society, especially with its capitalist system and our differences in privilege, has made hardcore diligence our knee-jerk reaction towards the world.

Just like in The Great Before, there are many lost souls among us. It could be borne out of rejection, lack of opportunity or even burnout. Thanks to “Soul,” I realized that it’s okay to give up on my goals sometimes. Take it from 22: “You can’t crush a soul in [The Great Before], that’s what life on Earth is for.” 

See? Now tell me why we should deprive ourselves of daily simple successes.

Read more:

Learn how to draw Pixar’s characters straight from the artists

Pixar’s “Purl” shows us how to thrive in a male-dominated workplace

Over two dozen Oscar-nominated shorts are available online

Still from “Soul”

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Jelou Galang
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