Review Round-Up: Pete Docter and Kemp Powers’ Soul

Pixar’s latest feature, a heady trip into spiritual realms, will be released on Disney+ this Christmas.
Soul - Pete Docter, Kemp Powers
Jamie Foxx voices Joe Gardner, who suddenly finds himself somewhere beyond this mortal coil

The ongoing pandemic has thrown much of life into disarray, and that includes the movie industry. Studios have pushed back release dates for 2020’s biggest movies (e.g., Dune, No Time to Die, Wonder Woman 1984) while exploring other options to get their movies in front of audiences (and hopefully turn a profit).

It should therefore come as no surprise that Disney is opting to release Pixar’s latest movie, Soul, directly via their Disney+ streaming service — and on Christmas Day, no less. (Unlike Disney’s release of Mulan, though, Soul will be available to Disney+ subscribers without any additional fees.)

Soul stars Jamie Foxx as Joe Gardner, a music teacher and aspiring jazz musician. When his soul gets separated from his body, Gardner embarks on a journey beyond this mortal coil to figure out what makes the human soul tick. Along with Foxx, Soul also features the voices of Tina Fey, Questlove, Angela Bassett, Graham Norton, and — I’m very excited about this — the one and only Richard Ayoade.

Even though Soul won’t be officially released until Christmas, reviews have already begun trickling in for the Pete Docter and Kemp Powers-directed movie. (Soul recently had its premier at the 2020 London Film Festival.)

Kaleem Aftab, “One of the studio’s very best”:

As the first entry in the Pixar canon to center on a Black character, this magical crowdpleaser has obvious representational value, so it’s especially gratifying to see how well it epitomizes the proverbial Pixar touch. Director Pete Docter (who became Pixar’s creative director in the years since Inside Out) knows the studio’s song sheet better than anyone and he plays well-versed tunes like a master, refashioning the best of their ingredients into a profound existential look at dream-fulfillment and emotional disconnection.

Nicholas Barber, “A gorgeous muddle”:

More often than not, [Pixar’s] films are concerned with how we can lead meaningful lives — but their latest cartoon is the first to make that philosophical theme explicit. Directed by Pete Docter, and co-directed and co-written by Kemp Powers, Soul ponders nothing less than the purpose of existence itself. It isn’t as profound as it was clearly intended to be, and its breezy depiction of bustling city life can’t help but feel anachronistic in the middle of a pandemic. But still, which other studio would dare to attempt what Soul is going for?

Peter Bradshaw, “A deeply sweet, happy, gentle film”:

Here is Pixar’s charming, bewildering and beautiful new animation about life after death and life before death – and that title incidentally reminds you how we got the word “animation”. It’s a free-jazz fantasia about a sad and lonely musician, with globules of Frank Capra, 60s psychedelia, 80s body-swap and an old-fashioned stairway to heaven that put me in mind of Pressburger and Powell.

Leslie Felperin, “Miles ahead and sublime in every sense”:

Directed by Pete Docter (Up, Inside Out) and co-directed by Kemp Powers (author of play-turned-film One Night in Miami), equipped with a screenplay and story credited to Docter, Powers and Mike Jones, this 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.

Jack King, “A mesmerizing return to form for Pixar”:

This is exactly what we needed in the current moment: A reminder of the joys of life’s minutiae, of warm cuddles with our moms, and the rush of lofty conversations with friends. The ruthless pace of the world, nor the clouds that hang over us, nor the mortar fire bombardment of self-deprecation from which we’re so often besieged can erase these moments entirely; all it takes is sitting down to something like Soul for it all to come rushing back, for a smile to creep upon our faces, and for our souls to be at rest.

Clarisse Loughrey, “This is Pixar at its very best”:

Pixar has already tackled some of life’s great questions: why do we feel the emotions we feel? Is there life after death? Could a rat cook a three-course meal? Their latest, Soul, cuts right to the chase. Why not embrace, head-on, the biggest mystery there is: life itself? What, after all, is the point of all this living? The studio are certainly up for the challenge. That won’t surprise anyone. 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.

Joe Utichi, “Recalls the lofty ambitions of the studio’s finest”:

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.

Hannah Woodhead, “Pixar’s best film in quite some time”:

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. Whether it’s playing the piano, eating a slice of pepperoni pizza or just watching the wind blow through the trees, there’s so much admiration for the very act of being in the film — which perhaps hits even harder given the uncertainty which occupies every waking minute of our present day.

Soul arrives on Disney+ on December 25, 2020. Watch the most recent trailer below.

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