Pixar continues to show that they can make a great movie.
Joe Gardner (Jamie Foxx) is a middle school music teacher who has long dreamed of being a Jazz musician. He gets a call from a former student, Curly (Questlove), who informs him of an opening in the band of Jazz legend Dorothea Williams (Angela Bassett). Joe manages to nail the audition and gets a chance to play piano with her, only to immediately walk into an open manhole cover. Joe finds himself in the “Great Beyond,” but tries to escape so that he can play the show. He accidentally ends up in the “Great Before,” where souls are prepared to be sent to Earth. Joe poses as an instructor to fool the soul counselors (Richard Ayoade, Alice Braga, Wes Studi, Fortune Feimster and Zenobia Shroff) and gets assigned to help “22,” (Tina Fey) a soul that has remained in the Great Before for a long time due to her cynicism. Joe realizes that if he can convince 22 to go to Earth, he can potentially use that as a way back to his body and make it to the show. They are helped by the spiritualist Moonwind (Graham Norton) and opposed by Terry (Rachel House), the soul counter.
I’ll admit that when Disney announced they were going to put this on Disney+ for free on Christmas, my first thought was that it must not be very good. After all, I think that putting it on streaming at the same time as theaters makes it ineligible for an Oscar, something Pixar collects almost every year they’re eligible. Hell, the category of “Best Animated Film” was arguably created because of Pixar and Dreamworks putting out films too good for the Academy to ignore. While it’s possible that they changed the eligibility rules or that Disney did something to circumvent them here, it still led me to think that the film was a dud. I was completely and utterly wrong.
I don’t think that this is Pixar’s best movie, but I would not fight someone who said it was. This film is ambitious beyond almost anything the company has tried before. While all of the good Pixar films have some message behind it, this one probably hits people on the deepest level. I honestly don’t want to spoil it at all because it comes together so well that it really is more of an experience than a moral. It almost feels like a surprise until you realize the whole movie has been set up perfectly so that it comes to this point naturally. It really is the message we need in 2020, too. Just see it for yourself.
The other thing that surprised me is how many of the jokes in this film are just a step above what I usually expect from Pixar. Not that there movies don’t have good laughs, but they’re usually kid-friendly jokes or something that is just mildly amusing. Sure, sometimes you have some jokes like the Gum Jingle from Inside Out which is just a perfect encapsulation of something funny and frustrating about human existence, but usually it’s just that the Piggy Bank doesn’t know who Picasso is. This movie, though, had a number of gags that just made me laugh out loud. I had to pause the movie because of a well-timed line about Tina Fey messing with the Knicks. The fact that the film is talking about a mature topic seemed to allow for some more mature jokes and I appreciate that. There are still jokes for the kids, obviously.
The voice acting and the animation are as good as you would expect. The style of the afterlife, or the beforelife as it were, is very creative and done in such a way that you likely won’t be offended no matter what your religious beliefs are. They also do a great job of intertwining the mind and spirituality, particularly in the concept of “the zone,” the place that you can reach that feels beyond yourself when you are focused on something you are passionate about.
Overall, this is a movie that deserves an audience. It’s a great work by a great team.
If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time, Collection of TV Episodes, Collection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.
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