Jamie Foxx, Tina Fey, Graham Norton, Rachel House, Alice Braga, Richard Ayoade, Angela Bassett
… a deeply resonant film that draws attention to the pleasures of minor notes.
Among the ranks of Disney/Pixar, whose animated works have garnered a healthy reputation for unbridled heart-crushing moments, writer/director and current CCO Pete Docter is a stand out: that silent montage of life and death in Up, the brutal depiction of depression in Inside Out, even the more touching moments from Monsters, Inc.; he has a knack for twisting the rules of computer animation to speak truth to emotional power. And his latest is no exception, with a film as much about jazz and body-swap shenanigans as it is about the meaning of life itself.
Par for the course when it comes to Pixar, the animation is terrific, with the human characters just stylised enough to stand out without sticking out from the photorealistic New York landscape, and the round-and-bouncy abstractions in the realms of the Great Beyond and Great Before giving form to the traditionally formless.
The musical accompaniment is equally stellar, from Jon Batiste’s life-restoring jazz arrangements, to Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ reliably atmospheric backing for the worlds beyond our own, right down to the smaller pieces like a scene-stealing Cody Chesnutt performance, as well as a deliciously retro cut from Daveed Diggs and his clipping. cohorts.
All in service to the story of Joe (Jamie Foxx in a career-highlight turn), a music teacher and pianist who’s looking for his big break… before taking a tumble into the outer realms, where he gets saddled with lost soul ‘22’ (Tina Fey finding new heights).
The voice acting is pitch-perfect across the board, with everyone from the leads to the bit parts pulling their weight, and their dialogue carries that characteristic neurotic humour of Docter’s previous work, Inside Out in particular. They’re the kind of jokes that help reinforce the idea that just because something is made for kids, it doesn’t mean that it has to play to the lowest common denominator, riffing on just about everything from New York subways, to personality traits, to what it feels like to lose yourself to your passions.
In-between the slapstick and brainy quips, the film’s approach to purpose and meaning in life are rather profound. It highlights the sheer rapture and affirmation that can come from realising your purpose in this world, be it creative or otherwise… but that on its own isn’t what makes life worth living. Life is what makes life worth living, every little moment within it, and it’s all too easy to lose sight of that when you’re hunting after that singular thing you feel destined to do in this world. Life is like jazz: It’s all about the space between the notes.
It’s a remarkably mature take (arguably more than most ‘adult’ films), and it shows Pete Docter (along with co-director/writer Kemp Powers) furthering the studio’s recent love affair with the abstract to craft a deeply resonant film that draws attention to the pleasures of minor notes. Even if it’s just watching a movie.