Pixar has returned with its latest original feature – another delightful family film that deals with some pretty heavy themes in an imaginative and endlessly fun way.
Soul tells the life-affirming story of Joe Gardner, a middle school music teacher who unexpectedly finds himself undergoing a very unusual fight for his life that sees him mentor a soul-in-training in a bid to help her find her spark.
The film is packed with delights for kids and adults, but the fairly high concept-nature of it might mean some younger viewers – and perhaps even some older ones – need a little bit of help in unpacking the ending.
We've provided our explanation of the events at the conclusion of the film below, so read on to find out exactly what happens to Joe and 22.
Soul ending explained
Before we explain the ending, it will probably be helpful to provide a brief recap of events up until the final moments. The film begins with music teacher and jazz lover Joe Gardner finally getting what looks to be a big break – playing piano for the legendary Dorothea Willimas quartet – but shortly after he gets the news he falls into a sinkhole in the road and finds himself in The Great Before, a place where new souls are prepared for life on Earth.
The long and short of it is that Joe has died falling down the sinkhole, and his final task before spending eternity in The Great Beyond will be to mentor a soul in order that she is ready for life. Joe is given the seemingly impossible task of training up 22, a particularly difficult Soul who has already proven too much to handle for the likes of Gandhi and Abraham Lincoln. And so the two decide on a plan: if Joe can help 22 find her spark (which he takes to mean her purpose in life), she will give him her Earth pass such that he can return to Earth instead and carry on living his life.
Things hit all sorts of snags though, and after an encounter with the mystic Moonwind (voiced by none other than Graham Norton) Joe and 22 find themselves on Earth but living in the wrong bodies – Joe's soul is in the body of a cat, while 22 is in Joe's body. But despite some early difficulties, 22 soon discovers that she was wrong to have regarded life with such cynicism, and by living in Joe's body she begins to realise what life is all about – finding her spark in the process.
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The pair soon return to the Great Before, and find that 22 has earned her Earth pass – meaning that she is now ready for life – and she seems determined to renege on their earlier deal and head to Earth for real herself. Joe and 22 find themselves arguing: Joe says that since she only found her spark by living in his body and still hasn't actually found her purpose, she's not really ready for Earth, and it should be him that returns instead.
In a conversation with one of the Jerrys (the leaders of The Great Before) Joe is told that he had been viewing the idea of a spark all wrong: souls aren't assigned specific purposes, but rather a spark simply relates to the joy of living and being alive. Certain that this is wrong and that his spark is music, Joe takes the Earth pass and returns to Earth to finally play the set with Dorothea Williams, while 22 becomes convinced that she has no purpose.
After the set, Joe goes home to play piano and, inspired by his time with 22, he enters 'the zone' – which sees him return to the area of The Great Before in which the mystic Moonwind travels. Here, Joe tells Moonwind that he messed up and needs to find 22 – who he discovers has become a 'lost soul' – a soul which is distracted by something that sees them become disconnected from life.
Joe and Moonwind track her down, and Joe attempts to give her his Earth pass, but she reacts angrily. Eventually, he is able to tell her that he was wrong and she is ready to live, she did get her spark. And so he helps take her to the portal to allow her to begin life on Earth, realising in the process that he won't be able to return to his body, but he tells 22 that that's OK: he's already lived, and now it's her turn.
But just as he's about to go to The Great Before to spend the rest of Eternity, Joe is stopped by one of the Jerrys, who tells him that he has inspired them so much that they have gifted him another chance – and they will send him back to Earth after all. Asked how he's going to spend the rest of his life, he responds, "I'm not sure, but I do know I'm going to live every minute of it." His experience with 22 has taught him that a spark doesn't just relate to a specific purpose or talent, but to the way in which we live life itself.
Soul arrives on Disney+ on Christmas Day 2020 – learn more about the Soul cast. You can sign up to Disney+ with an annual subscription for £59.99 or £5.99 a month.