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Soul First Reviews: Fun for Kids and Emotional for Grown-Ups

Critics say Pixar's latest offering is thoughtful, fun, visually stunning, and particularly meaningful for adults.

by | October 12, 2020 | Comments

Pixar’s latest, Soul, is heading to the streaming service Disney+ on Christmas Day, but the animated feature just premiered for its first audience at the London Film Festival, and the first reactions out of that social-distancing screening are unsurprisingly positive. Initial reviews aren’t in total agreement, however, on whether Soul is great or just pretty good.

Directed by Up and Inside Out helmer Pete Docter, the movie is being praised for its visuals, soundtrack, and representation more than its storytelling, which follows a Black jazz musician (voiced by Jamie Foxx) prematurely experiencing an abstractly rendered afterlife and teaming up with another character (Tina Fey) who isn’t ready to move on to their next realm. Even if it’s not peak Pixar, we can apparently still expect better than much of the studio’s output, as well as most any other films out this year.

Here’s what critics are saying about Soul:


How does it rank as a Pixar movie?

It’s one of the very best Pixar efforts in years.
– Kaleem Aftab, IndieWire

Their latest original story is their best work since 2015’s Inside Out.
– Hannah Woodhead, Little White Lies

Perhaps the most ambitious film ever attempted by Pixar.
– Jason Solomons, The Wrap

It’s a little Pixar-lite… For such big ideas, it’s surprisingly slight.
– Alex Godfrey, Empire Magazine

What would have been one of Pixar’s best films had it been released a decade earlier now feels like one of their more formulaic efforts… Soul is a mid tier Pixar effort.
– Alistair Ryder, AwardsWatch


Does it feel related to any specific predecessor?

Certainly, it will feel recognizable to those who have seen Docter’s prior film, Inside Out, and [it] may, indeed, be some kind of spiritual continuation.
Joe Utichi, Deadline

In many ways, Soul is an extension of his prior film [Inside Out], a similar examination of self doubt and existential insecurity.
Alistair Ryder, AwardsWatch

While Coco may have tread some of this turf first, Pixar’s latest life-after-death saga has its own distinctive twist.
Kaleem Aftab, IndieWire

If Coco dealt with The Great Beyond and letting go, Soul is about grabbing what you’ve got with both hands and celebrating the joy of being alive.
Hannah Woodhead, Little White Lies


Soul

Ryan Fujitani

Will kids appreciate it?

Although there’s plenty for kids to enjoy this feels like the most adult-themed Pixar movie yet.
James Mottram, South China Morning Post

Soul feels more consciously geared towards an older audience, which makes sense considering most of the children who grew up with Pixar’s earliest films are now in their thirties and forties.
Hannah Woodhead, Little White Lies

While this picture might skew towards a slightly older audience than Pixar’s usual demographic, a whole new generation of junior jazz fans could be created.
Wendy Ide, Screen International

This is a cartoon for children of all ages.
Jason Solomons, The Wrap


Should we bring tissues?

Adults will sob until their muscles ache.
Clarisse Loughrey, Independent

There won’t be a dry eye in your living room and when you’ve recovered from that, Soul hits you with a perfect final line that’ll set you off again.
Ian Sandwell, Digital Spy

It’s the emotion that overwhelms. Soul will leave you feeling warm – both inside and out.
James Mottram, South China Morning Post

It remains a film with a deeply emotional core… In short, it has soul.
Joe Utichi, Deadline

The stakes seem strangely low, all things considered, without the big weepy gut punches you might hope for, certainly of the potency that Docter unleashed in Up and Inside Out.
Alex Godfrey, Empire Magazine

Soul lacks its promise of true heart-wrench and touch, the shredding of one’s heart isn’t there.
Ben Rolph, Discussing Film


Soul

(Photo by Pixar)

How does the film look?

The hand animation — fluttering, graceful, lightning-fast — will be studied by students of the medium with awe in years to come.
Leslie Felperin, Hollywood Reporter

The animation – whether it’s the bustle of New York or the pastel-shaded celestial afterlife – is stunning.
James Mottram, South China Morning Post

Soul might be Pixar’s most exquisitely lit film – cinematographers Matt Aspbury and Ian Megibben fill both worlds with textures to die for.
Alex Godfrey, Empire Magazine

The juxtaposition of the two art styles helps to distinguish the places in which the narrative shifts from one mode to the next… It provides a beautiful roadmap with which to navigate the mess.
Liam Macleod, HeyUGuys


Does it do justice to the Big Apple?

This New York is just a notch away from reality, and so authentically, lovingly executed, you can feel it. It’s all gloriously lived-in, which is fitting for a film that’s an ode to life.
Alex Godfrey, Empire Magazine

New York has never looked as pretty as it does in the Pixar universe.
Hannah Woodhead, Little White Lies


Soul

(Photo by Pixar)

And how about representation?

Joe’s blackness isn’t relegated to a side issue; it’s baked into the essence of the character, and treated as a crucial aspect of his humanity.
Kaleem Aftab, IndieWire

Soul manages to avoid feeling tokenistic or patronizing… Racial identity isn’t really the point; in the end, it’s a movie more about jazz and spiritual essence — soul, if you will, in every sense of the word.
Leslie Felperin, Hollywood Reporter


How’s the music?

With music at its core, it’s no surprise that the soundtrack is one of the company’s best… A dizzying combination of musical identities that underscore the movie’s layered trajectory.
Kaleem Aftab, IndieWire

Possibly the best soundtrack in a Pixar film since the first Toy Story.
Leslie Felperin, Hollywood Reporter


And the story?

Soul manages to juggle the surreal humor of Inside Out in tandem with its most grounded, socially-conscious narrative ever, and it’s a real wonder to watch those ingredients congeal.
Kaleem Aftab, IndieWire

Only in the final stages do the knots of plot complexity get the better of the characters, but audiences will have been well won over by then.
Jason Solomons, The Wrap

There is nothing in Soul that feels particularly original… with the story feeling cobbled together by an algorithm that’s been fed all of Pixar’s greatest hits.
Alistair Ryder, AwardsWatch

After its incredible first act, things start to stall in the second act after a critical story point.
Ian Sandwell, Digital Spy

Smacking all of [the plot elements] together robs the film of any sense of thematic or tonal cohesion and constantly breaks the flow.
Liam Macleod, HeyUGuys


Soul

(Photo by Pixar)

Are there any other problems?

Some of the comedy leans towards the clumsy and juvenile and the lines between life and death seem to fall apart at the end, even outside of interventions from cosmic beings.
Liam Macleod, HeyUGuys

I felt some residual disappointment, a lingering tinge of regret that it doesn’t have the courage of all its convictions… What’s missing at the end, is a bit of soul.
Jason Solomons, The Wrap


Will it satisfy viewers as a Disney+ release?

The Disney+ move automatically makes it the best Disney+ movie yet – although you will wish you’d seen it on the big screen.
Ian Sandwell, Digital Spy

What a pity for those living in regions where Soul will launch on streaming service Disney+ rather than in cinemas, where it truly belongs.
James Mottram, South China Morning Post

A pity, as it’s a work that especially benefits from a theatrical-sized screen and a top-of-the-range sound system; immersion into its world is vital to the film’s impact.
Leslie Felperin, Hollywood Reporter

Some of the gorgeous splendor of the computer-generated animation is bound to be lost on smaller screens.
Jason Solomons, The Wrap

This is a picture which cries out to be seen on the big screen.
Wendy Ide, Screen International


Soul will debut on Disney+ on December 25, 2020.

On an Apple device? Follow Rotten Tomatoes on Apple News.

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