'Soul' Review Round-Up: Pixar Gets Existential in One of the Studio's Best Films

Pixar has set a high bar for itself ever since it launched with its all-time cinematic classic Toy Story. And the animation studio has continued to raise the bar ever since, releasing its share of masterworks, and its share of films that are…less so. But thankfully, it seems like Pixar’s latest highly anticipated release, Soul, falls in the former category. Making its worldwide premiere at the BFI London Film Festival ahead of its December release on Disney+, Soul is being called one of Pixar’s most ambitiously existential and finest films yet.

See what critics have to say about the film in our Soul review round-up.

The Hollywood Reporter raved that Soul is “miles ahead and sublime in every sense,” writing in its review:

[T]his densely packed, exquisitely executed and just a teensy bit batshit film is peak Pixar. It’s a vintage mix of the company’s intricate storytelling, complex emotional intelligence, technical prowess and cerebral whimsy on dexamethasone.

IndieWire calls the film “a profound existential look at dream-fulfillment and emotional disconnection,” though it is naturally inhibited by its family-friendly studio brand:

Yet for all the ambition driving “Soul” through its inventive plot, this is still a slick studio product set on an inevitable path to the Capra-like sentimentality of its closing passages, and ends up in a far more predictable place than it starts. Maybe it’s because the central character is an older man, that the filmmakers felt they needed to pitch more determinedly to younger audiences without the usual winks to adults. Even then, however, “Soul” remains a captivating journey. Like some of the best jazz compositions, it uses a traditional framework to veer off in many unexpected directions, so that even the inevitable end point feels just right.

Empire praised the film’s “ever-changing genre mish-mash, it’s an unpredictable box of curveballs, mixing its slapstick and sentimentality with big ideas,” but felt the film was still a little sleight despite its ambition:

For all its vision, though, it’s a little Pixar-lite. It’s a gorgeous 100 minutes, but not a huge emotional journey. The stakes seem strangely low, all things considered, without the big weepy gut punches you might hope for, certainly of the potency that Docter’s unleashed in Up and Inside Out.

“With beauty, humour, and heart, this is Pixar at its very best,” The Independent writes, adding:

But not only does Soul live up to Pixar’s own impossibly high standards, but it represents the very best the studio has to offer: beauty, humour, heart, and a gut-punch of an existential crisis. The children will laugh and cheer; the adults will sob until their muscles ache.

The Wrap calls Soul “perhaps the most ambitious film ever attempted by Pixar, though its complexity sometimes gets the better of it,” writing:

“Soul” is perhaps the most existentially ambitious film ever attempted by Disney and yet it pops with colorful visuals and gentle wisdom while the story clips along despite the dizzying height of the concept. 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.

Deadline says that Soul‘s “lofty ambitions” put it on par with the “studio’s finest” films:

If Soul’s lofty ambitions don’t fully hit the mark, the fact that one of animation’s preeminent mainstream houses can shoot for these kinds of stars at all is cause for celebration. It’s a concrete return to the Pixar of old, full of grand ideas and original execution, and a statement of intent for Docter’s steering of the Pixar ship away from endless sequels and back to inventive originals. It remains a film with a deeply emotional core that feels like it comes from a place of genuine curiosity. In short, it has soul.

A few more critics and audience members gave their reactions on Twitter, with all of them praising Pete Doctor’s direction, the story’s emotional core, and the film’s dazzling animation.

— Whitlock And Pope @ LFF (@WhitlockAndPope) October 11, 2020

— ben rolph @ LFF & NYFF 2020 (@TheDCTVshow) October 11, 2020

In another world, Soul would have made its debut at the Cannes Film Festival to build up buzz that it would ride all the way through a successful theatrical release and to Oscar season. But alas, the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has forced Disney’s hand and pushed Soul straight to Disney+. But its early VOD/streaming release doesn’t indicate any loss in quality, as it’s clear that Soul is one of the wildest, most dazzling films that Pixar has released. Maybe one day we’ll get to see it in theaters.

Soul will be digitally released on Disney+ on December 25, 2020.

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