There’s a scene in Pixar’s latest movie Soul where Joe Gardner (Jamie Foxx), a struggling middle school music teacher, steps out of a jazz club after one of the most triumphant moments of his life and realizes he doesn’t feel the way he thought he would. He’s just performed with Dorothea Williams (Angela Bassett), fulfilling his life-long goal to “make it” as a professional musician.
“I’ve been waiting on this day for my entire life,” he says. “I thought I’d feel different.”
Dorothea, a popular saxophonist, and leader of her own jazz quartet, observes Joe sympathetically and then tells him a story about a little fish. The little fish swims up to an older fish and says, “I’m trying to find this thing called the ocean.”
“The ocean?” says the older fish. “That’s what you’re in right now.”
“This?” says the young fish incredulously. “This is water. What I want is the ocean.”
This little parable stands at the heart of one of the most ambitious films Pixar’s ever made — a film that arrived poignantly at the end of a year in which so many people had become weary of living.