Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

"With its fragmented narrative, it feels almost like a shorts collection jazz riff on the theme of existence and metaphysics." | Photo: Disney/Pixar

Pixar is no stranger to a high concept film - and they surely don't come much higher than heaven and/or limbo (although it's not referred to by those names here). Here the space where our souls go to and come from is variously referred to as The Great Beyond and The Great Before - the former, an escalator to a higher plain, which leads from the latter, a sort of kindergarten for souls where they earn their "spark" before jumping off into life. This place is home to 22 (voiced by Tina Fey), a feisty soul, who hasn't found, perhaps doesn't even want to find, her Earth mojo yet.

Back on Earth itself, Joe (voiced by Jamie Foxx) is doing his best to get his high school class to put their souls into band practice, while still dreaming of his big break in the jazz and blues biz. But when opportunity comes knocking, it seems he is also at death's door. This, then, is the rather complex set-up for Joe to encounter 22 in that limbo space of Beyond and Before, when he gets off the escalator, unwilling to give up quite yet. Encountering the Picasso-style beings who look after things off-world - most of whom are called Jerry (voiced by Alice Braga and Richard Ayoade and others), with the exception of an officious pointy-nosed accountant called Terry (Rachel House), he finds himself tasked with trying to mentor 22.

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There's a lot going on here - arguably too much for younger children to find their footing with and things become even more complex when Joe and 22 end up back on Earth together - the details of which it would be spoilery to go into.

So much is lovely about this animation that it almost feels cruel to pick holes. First of all, the quality of the light in the New York portion of the film is a marvel, whether it's glinting off a saxophone or gently falling with a honeyed glow on leaves or the city streets. There's also a decent amount of sight gags on offer, with Joe's dodging of death before finally ending up on life support a little bit of silent movie class.

But with its fragmented narrative, it feels almost like a shorts collection jazz riff on the theme of existence and metaphysics, plus quite a few of the jokes feel extremely American-specific and won't translate well for international audiences. While not hanging about in any one space for too long holds a certain level of interest, the action feels disjointed and overembellished in places - for example with the character of Moonwind (voiced by Graham Norton employing all his natural charm), a hippy sort who can meditate his way into "the zone" between the realms.  There's no lack of ambition and plenty of the gags do have a universal punchlines - "You can't crush a soul here," says Jerry of the Great Beyond, "That's what life on Earth is for." - but overall it feels as though it's just trying too hard to find its own spark.

Reviewed on: 24 Feb 2021
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A music teacher finds himself in The Great Before, an incredible place where new souls are born.
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Director: Pete Docter, Kemp Powers

Writer: Pete Docter, Mike Jones, Kemp Powers

Starring: Jamie Foxx, Tina Fey, Quest Love, Daveed Diggs, Phylicia Rashad, Angela Bassett, Richard Ayoade, John Ratzenberger, Sam Lavagnino, Aiyanna Miorin, Azriel Dalman, Jamie Foxx, Tina Fey, Quest Love, Daveed Diggs

Year: 2020

Runtime: 90 minutes

Country: US


London 2020

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