Pixar’s ‘Soul’ Is an ‘Utterly Mind-Blowing,’ ‘Genuinely Profound’ ‘Captivating Journey,’ Critics Say

Jamie Foxx stars as a passionate musician teacher whose soul gets separated from his body

Soul Jamie Foxx

The pandemic may have pushed “Soul” out of theaters, but if critics’ reviews of Pixar’s latest film are any indication, it is on its way to becoming known as one of the animation studio’s finest films.

While only a handful of reviews have been published so far from the film’s screening at the London Film Festival, “Soul” has been effusively praised as one of Pixar’s most visually and thematically ambitious stories yet. The film follows Joe Gardner (Jamie Foxx), a music teacher who risks his financially stable job to fulfill his dream of a jazz career.

But just when he nails the audition, a freak accident hurtles him into a dimension of souls, where he is offered a chance to return to his life if he can teach a stubborn soul-in-training named 22 (Tina Fey) that life is worth living.

Under special rules instituted by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to account for the pandemic, any film originally intended for theatrical release this year can qualify for the Oscars if it moves to streaming. That means that “Soul,” which was moved to release on Disney+ this past week, is still on course to be the favorite to earn Pixar its 11th Best Animated Feature Oscar. If it does win, it would be the third Oscar for director Pete Docter, who previously won for “Up” and “Inside Out” and last year became the studio’s new chief creative officer.

“Soul” will arrive on Disney+ on Christmas Day. Read some of the reviews from London below:

Alex Godfrey, Empire

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

Kaleem Aftab, IndieWire

“Soul” offers up the exact lessons one might expect from a story about second chances: what it takes to discover the joys of living, and how to find the courage to confront hard truths. But the movie doesn’t shy away from addressing the precise hurdles faced by its Black protagonist, even in these supernatural circumstances (including a bit about the challenges of hailing cabs in New York). 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. … “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.

Drew Taylor, Collider

We’ve seen the first 40 minutes of Pixar’s latest and it’s utterly mind-blowing. … Soul feels unlike anything Pixar has ever accomplished. It is a thematic, spiritual and visual breakthrough, one that is that is unafraid to go to some really weird places (there’s a lot of terminology packed into the first section, not unlike Inside Out, including some far-out concepts) and push the envelope into surreal, occasionally kaleidoscopic imagery. And at the same time, for as wild as it goes, Soul is also deeply human and real.

Wendy Ide, Screen Daily

Pixar has never shied away from meaty philosophical subject matter, but with Soul, the studio gets to grips with some seriously weighty themes, to stunning effect. What is life’s purpose? Is a passion the same as a vocation? And what makes a human existence meaningful and how is it measured? Fittingly, given that the film’s life force is jazz, there’s a riffing, freeform inventiveness of approach which dances around the fact that the story plays out, partially at least, in a pensive minor key. Visually glorious, frequently very funny and genuinely profound, this is a picture which cries out to be seen on the big screen

Jason Solomons, TheWrap

There is so much to enjoy and ponder in “Soul,” not least the predominance of African American characters and some fine music, with contributions from jazz luminaries including Herbie Hancock, Roy Haynes and Jon Batiste. It will light up Christmas Day, no problem, but I felt some residual disappointment, a lingering tinge of regret that it doesn’t have the courage of all its convictions. Weirdly, amid all the glistening animation, layers of polished storyboarding, tidy life philosophies and zingy dialogue exchanges, what’s missing at the end, is a bit of soul.

Hannah Woodhead, Little White Lies

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.

Clarisse Loughrey, The Independent

As the physical and the metaphysical collide, “Soul” lands on something far more profound than the act of someone rediscovering their joie de vivre. It’s a chance for co-directors Pete Docter, also behind 2016’s thematically similar “Inside Out,” and Kemp Powers to seek out the truly radical. Their film confronts society’s capitalistic focus on individual success and talent, the idea that our lives only have purpose if we are the best, the most famous, the most beloved. Soul wonders, instead, if we could seek out something more simple – what if the true joy of living is simply that we get to do it in the first place?

Leslie Felperin, THR

Featuring possibly the best soundtrack in a Pixar film since the first Toy Story, Soul sports a jazz score that is not just an adornment to the story or an emotional enhancement, but an utterly integral part of the narrative. Joe’s talent for improvisation, and for listening to others, are key to his development as a character and foundational to what he manages to teach 22. At the same time, the animation finds a way of embedding the music right into the colors and shapes of the film that’s pure magic and pays homage to the rhythms and phrasing of jazz and hip hop artists.


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