Soul is very clearly a Pixar movie, but I'd probably place it in the upper-mid of their offering. It's not quite an immediate classic or a deeply cognitive idea like a Toy Story or Inside Out, but it's got some decent substance, a fun plot, excellent characters, and (in a slightly rare move for the studio) an exceptional soundtrack. So, yeah, upper-mid seems fair.
Storywise, there's not much too spectacular going on; it's a standard character quest arc. But of course where Pixar excels is world-building, crafting an idea out of a common metaphor or imaginative spin on reality, and really selling it. In that sense, Soul gets an A-. I love the world of the souls, the caretakers are a wonderful piece of design, and it neatly manages to be both religiously spiritual and broadly accessible, careful not to tread on any toes. Plus, they have a lot of fun with aspects like the overloading of narcissistic personality traits and the historical mentor cameos 😂
But at the same time, the central point about souls needing a spark feels quite undermined in the latter part of the movie. It's like they had a fun idea for an adventure story, then realised that the message was effectively "everyone has one particular talent and heart's desire and that's it", which is pretty depressing. After all, what happens if you get your "calling" wrong? Or aren't privileged enough to act on it? So in the final act they 180 on that concept and basically say "life is what you make of it". But then... why do soul's need sparks? Is it just an overly complicated random number generator to keep things spontaneous? Is it a metaphor for free will? Possibly, yet it feels like they just didn't quite make the two ends of the idea meet in the middle.
I mean, it's not the only place we get a bit of confusion: the cat doesn't make much sense at all. The idea that his soul gets stuck in the cat is a fun one, it leads to good hijinks. Then someone in the writer's room wondered if kids would get upset about what happened to the cat, so they throw in a cute scene where it's heading to heaven. Only, then, at the end when he leaves the cat it just... comes back? Although they take great pains to explain that it's a one-way trip, so... what?
Or the fact that 22 can only get her spark by living. But she can't live without a spark. Does that mean the spark's are just gatekeeping by the celestial caretakers, or was she effectively just screwed?
Still, these are minor nitpicks that can easily be brushed aside by all the fun ideas, excellent comedy, and brilliant music on offer. I'm aware there was some minor controversy about this being Pixar's first black-targeted outing that felt, well, not on the money, but I'm not sure I'm qualified to comment. From my perspective, as a culturally androgenous movie about passion, creativity, and the meaning of life, it was a fun ride, with a stellar cast, and some excellent individual moments. I'd happily watch it again, but I'm not sure much will stick with me between viewings.