What Happened to 22 on ‘Soul’? The Ending of the Pixar Film, Explained


Just in time for the holidays, Pixar’s newest animated film Soul dropped on Disney+ on Dec. 25, 2020 — and viewers have lingering questions about what happens to 22, one of the story’s main characters.

Spoiler Alert: This article contains spoilers for Pixar’s latest animated film, Soul.

What happens to 22 in ‘Soul’?

Although she’s received extensive counseling from people like psychoanalyst Carl Jung and Abraham Lincoln, a soul residing in the Great Before named 22 continues to grapple with the purpose of life. It’s only when she gets to experience the world through ambitious jazz pianist Joe Gardner’s perspective that she develops a lust for life. So, what happens to 22 at the end of Soul?

Source: Pixar

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As a recent article by USA Today reveals, the creators spent a considerable chunk of time weighing up different options and alternative endings — until they found the one that fit. 

Soul captures Joe’s (Jamie Foxx) friendship with 22 (Tina Fey), a blip struggling to find her spark and work out what she wants to achieve. That is, until the second half of the movie. 

Soul kicks off with a scene that sees Joe finally achieve his big breakthrough as a jazz musician, landing an opportunity to play for Dorothea Williams’ (Angela Bassett) quartet. 

Drunk on adrenaline, he accidentally falls into an open manhole right after the successful audition. He ends up in a coma, and his soul lines up to the Great Beyond.

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Too eager to perform the gig, Joe starts running in the opposite direction only to end up in the Great Before, the incubator where would-be souls can develop peacefully.

Once he reaches the Great Before, he stumbles on 22, a young one who broke the spirits of some of the greatest thinkers and religious icons, including Mahatma Gandhi and Mother Teresa. Joe and 22 make a pact: If Joe manages to set her on the right path, she will give him her Earth pass. 

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Following an encounter with the character named Moonwind (Graham Norton), Joe and 22 end up back on Earth. But instead of their own bodies, Joe transforms into a cat, while 22 gets to roam the streets as Joe. It is during this time that she discovers the joys of life and becomes mature enough to be granted her own Earth pass. 

Upon their return to the Great Before, 22 wants to annul their previous pact, leaving Joe profoundly devastated. Too stubborn, he snags the Earth pass and returns home. Meanwhile, 22 succumbs to another bout of hopelessness. 

During his time on Earth, Joe gets to play with Dorothea Williams’s jazz quartet, the gig he was pining for. But one day, while he is working on his music, he realizes that he made a terrible mistake and sets out to remedy it. 

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Joe returns to the Great Before and convinces 22 to start her life, thereby sacrificing his own. Inspired by the unexpected course of action, the Jerrys, the soul counselors in charge of the Great Before, give Joe another chance. The movie ends with Joe being given the opportunity to return to his life on Earth — and 22, presumably, is able to begin her life on Earth.

Source: Pixar

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An alternative ending saw Joe return to Earth as a jazz musician, with 22 as one of his students.

As Pete Docter, the writer and director of the movie told USA Today, they wanted to emphasize the idea that the unusual adventures allowed Joe to learn the importance of appreciating the opportunities he received.

“There was one [ending] where Joe was touring with Dorothea and teaching students privately on the side, and 22 was a new student and he recognized that it was her,” Pete told USA Today

It’s unclear, exactly, what happens to 22 at the end of Soul — who she becomes, if she and Joe ever meet up again, etc. But that was entirely by design. Because whenever the writers thought about showing where 22 ended up or what Joe did next, “there was something innately not satisfying about it,” co-writer and co-director Kemp Powers told USA Today.

“We know that audiences often want to be told exactly what happened to the character. They want to know that the character made the ‘right’ decision,” Pete added. “But in the case of Joe, we didn’t want to put a choice on him. We wanted to say that regardless of what he ended up doing, whether it was going back to teaching, playing in a band or some hybrid of both, he just appreciated life better.”

Soul is available on Disney+ now. 


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