The previous Pixar release “Onward” received a mixed cinema/streaming release, the studio choosing the streaming route only (Disney +) for this film.
One wonders what’s being smoked in the Pixar Movie studio cafeteria, this is arguably the most “out there” story yet and coming from a studio/director that released films focusing on a house floating under balloons “Up” and existing inside people’s thoughts “Inside Out“, this is saying something.
Arguably director Pete Docter is working through his own mid-life crisis through this loosely themed trilogy.
The story follows “Joe” (Jamie Foxx), a middle school music teacher, attempting to bring his discordant orchestra/band into harmony while his Jazz pianist dreams gently fall from his grasp. Which pleases his mother, believing “Jazz Pianist” to be a poor career choice.
Catching a lucky break following an introduction from his previous student “Curly”, Joe impresses Diva Jazz singer “Dorothea” (Angela Bassett) with his ivory tinkling and snags the gig of a lifetime in her tightly held quartet.
All but skipping home he has an unfortunate open manhole/walking interface and ends up in the “Great Beyond” or what joint directors and writers Pete Docter & Kemp Powers speculate where we go when our time is up. A conveyor belt towards a bright light, but Joe is not ready, surely some mistake?
This is where it gets a bit weird with Joe’s possible route back home convoluted in the extreme. Involving the “Great Before” and meeting lost soul “22” (Tina Fey) before attempting to find her passion and book her trip to Earth, with help from sign twirling lost soul pirate “Moonwind” (Graham Norton). All the while being chased by mystical accountant “Terry” (Rachel House), concerned the numbers of souls are not adding up and determined to correct this administrative error.
Did we also mention accidental humorous human/cat body swaps, are you keeping up?
The story does overreach on occasion, losing cohesion and becoming disjointed but the movie is completed with the usual Pixar style, with great voice acting and cutting edge animation. Kudos is due for not taking the safe route with a simpler story-line.
The film skews towards an older audience being contemplative in style, looking back on a life lived, chances missed and dreams lost, existentialism lite if you will. All wrapped up in primary colours for the younger tots with no clue what’s going on. Lines like “Don’t worry, they’re fine. You can’t crush a soul here. That’s what life on Earth is for”, reinforce this belief.
The story ends somewhat open ended, leaving the audience thinking about their life, place in it and what they hoped to achieve, which is not bad for an animated cartoon.
The film is also notable for being Pixar’s first all African American led story, not just including diversity but setting the whole film within the community. A welcome change and a further sign studios believe stories told from more diverse backgrounds can generate good box office.
Not quite top drawer Pixar, with underlying themes arguably too complex for massive box office appeal but upper middling Pixar remains better than most other studios can manage, so remains recommended viewing.