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Pixar's Soul

It feels like we have been hearing and talking about Pixar’s next film, Soul, for a while. Much like everything else on the theatrical calendar, the animated soul-searcher (pun intended) has been delayed, though it now has a Disney+ date on the calendar – more on that in a moment. Directed by Pete Docter (Up), the movie finally started to screen for critics, mainly because it was part of the program at this year’s BFI London Film Festival. So, where will Soul fit in the pantheon of Pixar greatness?

Let’s kick things off with The Hollywood Reporter, which admits that it is reacting to the movie “while the music is still ringing in my ears and the tears still drying,” but instantly puts Soul in the upper tier of Pixar features.

Directed by Pete Docter and co-directed by Kemp, 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.

IndieWire celebrates one element of Soul that is being highlighted in every review: Its emphasis on a Black lead character. Joe (Jamie Foxx) is a middle-school band teacher whose interest in jazz music follows him through the afterlife after Joe dies in a tragic accident. IndieWire notes:

With music at its core, it’s no surprise that the soundtrack is one of the company’s best, although it’s quite as jazzy as one might expect, with the movie’s two worlds separated by different scores. Jon Baptiste provides the original jazz compositions, but the real aural delights come by the way that Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross take a leaf out of Mica Levi’s songbook to create an ethereal synthesized sound. The result is a dizzying combination of musical identities that underscore the movie’s layered trajectory.

Empire dials it back slightly in its review of Soul. Though calling it “rewarding,” the British magazine writes:

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.

But The Independent UK swings back around to an outlet comparing Soul to some of Pixar’s best. Given that the animation studio has produced such masterpieces as WALL-E, Inside Out and the Toy Story franchise, that is high praise, indeed:

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.

Sounds about right. So, now for the bad news. After this film festival run, Soul goes on the shelf for a few months. Disney announced that the animation feature will make its debut on Disney+ on Christmas Day. Just what you want from Santa: an existential crisis comedy that’s bound to make you weep.

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