Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB
USA, 2020. Walt Disney Pictures, Pixar Animation Studios. Story and Screenplay by Pete Docter, Mike Jones, Kemp Powers. Cinematography by Matt Aspbury, Ian Megibben. Produced by Dana Murray. Music by Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross. Production Design by Steve Pilcher. Film Editing by Kevin Nolting.
Pixar has created another concept-heavy tale meant to make us really think about the important stuff, though their efforts are strained in this case as the elements are uncomfortably blended together. Jamie Foxx voices the character of Joe, a middle-aging music teacher who has long forgotten his ambitions to be a professional musician until the opportunity comes up to fill in for a missing player at a gig with a major jazz artist (voiced by Angela Bassett). He undergoes a demanding audition but gets the job, and is ecstatic about the fact that he might defy his mother’s desire that he forget his dreams and pursue the stability of a permanent job at his school…so ecstatic, in fact, that he walks into an uncovered manhole and dies. In a flash he finds himself on a sunbeam in space traveling towards the “Great Beyond”, but determined to fulfil his dream to get on the path towards success, runs away from the light and into the bureaucracy of the afterlife. The Al Hirschfeld-esque guardians of paradise don’t have much help to offer him, but when he is assigned to mentor the new souls preparing to jump to earth and be born as new people, he sees his opportunity. He is assigned the most hopeless case that the celestial beings have to offer, a tiny little creature called 22 (as in Catch-) who is voiced by the adorably insouciant Tina Fey and who has annoyed every mentor before them (including Gandhi and Mother Teresa) in their refusal to graduate to the point of being born. Joe and 22 make a deal that he’ll take 22’s place, but thanks to an error, they both fall to earth and 22 ends up in Joe’s body and Joe ends up in the body of cat. What was up to this point an exhausting first half of non-stop exposition (the rules in heaven are too many, I’d honestly rather not go there) now becomes a bouncy, fun body-swap comedy as Joe needs to get his body to his big gig despite the fact that it is possessed by the soul of someone who has never experienced human life. That’s where the inspiration comes in, as Joe’s experiences teach him what really matters in life and what the actual meaning of happiness and success are. It’s bright and colourful and full of wonderful characters, but the machinery of the early scenes is awkward and the concluding revelations a bit too packaged to be truly touching. A scene where Joe gets his hair cut by a barber who has worked out his feelings about life’s disappointments is the only place where you see co-director Kemp Powers’ script really show off intelligent observation instead of rushing through plot twists. The rest feels like a marketing team put together all the most popular segments from previous Pixar films, hoping to sell them as a feel-good collage.
Academy Awards: Best Animated Feature; Best Original Score
Nominations: Best Sound
Critics Choice Award: Best Original Score
Golden Globe Awards: Best Animated Feature; Best Original Score