Saturday, December 26, 2020



Jazz pianist Joe Gardner (Jamie Foxx) bounces from gig to gig, finding it hard to land his dream job. When his temporary stint as a music teacher becomes an employment contract offer, his mother Libba (Phylicia Rashad) is relieved. And then Joe gets a last-minute invitation to join the Jazz quartet of saxophone legend Dorothea Williams (Angela Bassett). Unable to contain his joy, his clumsiness leads to his untimely death by falling in a manhole. Soon, his soul is transported to a queue for the Great Beyond. Hesitant to succumb to death, he manages to escape to a garden called the Great Before, where new souls are being prepped for their debut on Earth. There, he fakes his way to becoming the mentor of 22 (Tina Fey), a soul who has been trapped there for thousands of years, reluctant to partake in life on Earth. The two reach an agreement. He helps her get her Earth card so she can give it to him, and then he can go back to his body and she can live forever in pre-life.

Those little souls are so adorable. You know Pixar is really on top of their game when they can craft such animated features that cater to both children and adults. The animation is cute and sure to catch a kid’s attention. The storyline, on the other hand, is philosophical in nature if you go deeper, tackling the issues of life and death as well as that perpetual quest for that one big purpose. Needless to say, this film will have you reflecting on your own life by the time the credits start rolling. And true enough to Pixar tradition, you get to choke up a little bit before the ending. Coco already did that to us once. Here we go again.

Another fascinating aspect of the story is the contrast between Joe and 22. 22 has not experienced living yet but has a very negative view of life. She would rather spend eternity in the Great Before than venture into something she already dismissed as irrelevant to her existence. On the contrary, Joe seems to have no luck with his life choices and yet fights death for another chance at life. Cliche as it might be, both of them help each other realize things about life and death, which is a rather optimistic view of the undeniable interdependence men have on one another.

One memorable quote comes from Dorothea about the fish that asks another fish where the ocean is, only to get a reply that he IS in the ocean, to which the fish retorts, “I am looking for the ocean. This? It’s just water.” That’s not verbatim, but you get the gist. Different folks will have different takeaways from this story, but that one hit me like a big yellow school bus, and I’m probably not the only one. You know, spending your whole life trying to find your purpose and realizing in your death bed that in so doing, you actually forgot to live your life. Tragic, but isn’t that such a common struggle for most of us? Deep.

Don’t get me wrong, though. The material is not all about the philosophy of life. The dialogues and one-liners are full of humor, thanks perhaps to Fey who is also credited as a contributor for some parts of the script. They also play around with some historical figures as mentors for the cute little souls, and the resulting interactions are quite entertaining. We also have to give some well-deserved kudos to whoever thought about the storyline.

There is no doubt about the abilities of Pixar’s animators, but their screenwriters always seem to have otherworldly ideas when it comes to world-building that seem absurd at first but eventually work. Remember that immigration-type portal in Coco through which the dead in the afterlife had to go through to cross over to the world of the living? Here the souls have Earth passes and training centers to prep them for life one Earth. It’s a very imaginative way of simplifying concepts that we, as human beings, have difficulties trying to grasp.

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