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Mental Health Reflections on Disney’s “Soul”

If you have not seen Soul yet, this post contains spoilers! 

Disney Pixar’s Soul was recently released directly to the Disney Plus streaming platform. Soul is one of only four American animated films to feature black lead characters (NYT, 2020). While many viewers are excited that the film features a Black lead, some viewers feel that the film does not truly represent black people as the main character, Joe, is depicted as a blue “soul” instead of a black man for parts of the movie. 

Despite the differing opinions regarding how representative the film truly is, the film is a win for black culture in my book. It features a star studded voice acting cast to include Jamie Foxx, Angela Bassett and Phylicia Rashad and it celebrates jazz. Soul offers many points for reflection and mental health considerations. Let’s dive into some of those points! 

Beware of Myopic Tunnel Vision

We learn that Joe fell in love with the piano when his father took him to a jazz club as a young boy. From that point on, Joe decided that his only purpose on Earth is to play the piano. He even says this to Dorethea Williams, when he is pleading to get his position back in her band. 

During the film it becomes clear that Joe has dedicated his life to this purpose. He demonstrates myopic tunnel vision in pursuit of this purpose and thus neglects to invest in or appreciate other aspects of his life. This impacts his relationships and thinking. 

Relationships 

Limited or Strained Relationships: There is no evidence that Joe has relationships with anyone besides his mother, her co-workers and his barber. We hear a brief mention of a woman named Lisa, whom Joe tells 22 that he does not have time to have a relationship with due to his tireless pursuit of his jazz career. Joe’s relationship with his mother is also strained as Joe’s mother worries that his focus on gigs will leave him ill prepared for retirement or life without his mother’s assistance.

One Sided Relationships
Joe’s myopic tunnel vision hindered his ability to develop a deeper connection with his barber Dez. After a failed attempt to cut his own hair while trapped in a cat’s body, Joe’s body makes its way into his barber Dez’s chair. This hair cutting experience is unique because 22 is in Joe’s body and is therefore engaged in conversation with Dez. At the end of the conversation, Dez tells Joe that it was nice to talk to Joe about something besides jazz and that Joe never knew Dez’s life story because he never asked.

All or Nothing Thinking 

Joe is so excited to have landed his dream gig that he carelessly walks into traffic and ultimately falls into an open manhole. This accident leaves Joe in a life threatening coma. The most poignant example of Joe’s myopic tunnel vision is his declaration that he “does not want to die when his life has just begun” as his soul form is approaching The Great Beyond- representing the end of his life on Earth. This is an example of the all or nothing thinking cognitive distortion. 

In making this statement, Joe fails to acknowledge his gift for teaching and mentoring students like Curly, who recommended Joe for his dream gig. It also devalues the “regular old living moments” that Joe enjoys like a slice of pecan pie or fireworks. This is the danger of all or nothing thinking. It implies that if you do not have the thing that you deem of utmost importance (like Joe’s dream gig), then you have nothing at all. This cognitive distortion may lead to negative self talk or symptoms of depression to include feelings of worthlessness or sadness. We see a depiction of these states as Lost Souls in the film. 

Becoming a Lost Soul

We are introduced to lost souls in the Astral Plane. According to Moonwind, whose soul form enters the astral plane when his human body engages in sign twirling, when joy becomes an obsession, it separates you from life. When this happens, one becomes a lost soul. This idea aligns with the concept of myopic tunnel vision. 

Lost souls are also representations of persons experiencing depression or anxiety. This becomes clear after 22 and Joe have a fight about whether or not 22 truly found her spark on Earth or if she was just experiencing Joe’s spark while in his body. This fight sends 22 into a state of depression. 

When Joe’s soul form returns to the astral plane after this fight, we learn that 22 has become a lost soul. She is engulfed in black sand that takes the forms of her own negative self talk and hurtful comments from previous mentors. These forms result in 22 feeling like she is not good enough for life on Earth and that she has no purpose. These feelings cause her to isolate herself in the astral plane. 

These conceptualizations of a lost soul demonstrate the mental health and well-being consequences of myopic tunnel vision and negative self-talk. We offer tips for overcoming these ways of being below. 

Soul Inspired Self Care Tips

Working with Myopic Tunnel Vision and All or Nothing Thinking 

  • Make a gratitude list. This activity is a natural mood booster. It can also help you visualize how full your life is. 
  • Re-evaluate the way that you assign value to aspects of your life. Are you devaluing some things while over emphasizing others? 
  • Be intentional about the “regular old living” parts. 
  • Savor your favorites. This can be food, music, books, you name it! 
  • Invest into your relationships. Make time to check in with the people you care about. Share about you but also ask about them. 
  • Make time for self-care. 
  • Identify diverse ways to indulge your passions. Although Joe did not appreciate it at first, he was able to share his passion for music through teaching when he did not have gigs. 

Working with Negative Self Talk 

  • Examine the evidence. In Soul, 22 did not have evidence to support that she had no purpose. She ultimately made it to Earth equipped with her spark badge. Are the negative things you tell yourself supported by evidence? 
  • Practice positive affirmations. You can speak, think or write positive affirmations. Phrases like “I am enough” can help combat negative self-talk. Need some help? There are apps available to help you get started.