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Stars: Voices: Jamie Foxx, Tina Fey, Graham Norton, Angela Bassett, Alice Braga, Richard Ayoade, Wes Studi, Phylicia Rashad

Director: Pete Docter

Denied a proper wide release on its first appearance due to lockdown restrictions, this is another brilliant animation feature from Pixar, although the few scary moments and density (and swiftness) of thought may not suit all younger children. It is, however, a beautifully-wrought thing and a highly imaginative conception, with a tear-jerking ending, which is at last getting the audience it deserves.

Joe Gardner (Foxx) teaches music at middle school, but despairs of the clangorous racket made by most of his pupils, and still dreams of achieving his boyhood dream of playing jazz piano at professional level. A friend gets him an audition with the formidable Dorothea Kingsley (Bassett) and her quartet at the Half Note Club.

To his surprise, Joe passes with flying colours and a whole new world opens up. On the way home, however, he falls down a manhole cover and, like David Niven in a 1945 classic, lies in hospital, hovering between life and death.

Finding himself on an escalator to the Great Beyond, Joe flees desperately in the other direction, ending up in the Great Before, quickly finding himself mentor to the uncontrollable female '22' (Fey), who has seen off such formidable mentors as Abraham Lincoln and Sister Teresa, and still needs one 'spot' on her badge to give her the chance of renewed life on earth, which she does not want.

Winning her over, Joe prepares to accompany her for the trip back to life, but takes a jump into the transitional void a fraction too soon, resulting in 22 plunging into his hospital bed (and body), while Joe is trapped in the body of the cat that was lying on the bed.

The cat, Miss Mitten, is a masterstroke. A huge female tortoiseshell, vibrantly animated by Docter and his team, she can talk to 22 in Joe's voice, but all anyone else hears is a series of miaows. Naturally, each of the mismatched pair has something to teach the other, as Joe in the cat's body tries to get his music career back on track.

Although I could have done with more of Joe's piano jazz, the film is full of wonderful scenes, laugh-out-loud moments and colourful characters. Especially imaginative are the 'lost' souls, mounds of black matter with slumped shoulders, living in a limbo desert. 'There,' remarks Moonwind (Norton), Joe's piratical helper in the Great Before. 'Looks like another hedge fund manager.'

David Quinlan

USA 2020. UK Distributor: Disney. Colour (unspecified).
101 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: PG.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 0, Violence/Horror 0, Drugs 0, Swearing 0.

Review date: 04 Mar 2024