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Released on Christmas day, after a year of loss, Pixar’s new instant classic asks big, existential questions through small, adorable creatures, pre-life souls. It’s the story of Joe, a middle-school jazz teacher (voiced by Jamie Foxx) who’s on the brink of finally realizing his dream to play with the legends.

With his head in the clouds, he stumbles into a manhole, and soon finds himself in the Great Before — a possible way station to the Great Beyond — and the place where souls are prepped and mentored by people like Joe. Will he get back to his body in time to get that shot at his lifelong ambition? That’s the quest, but the journey — and the story — are far more complex and abstract than its closest Pixar cousin, Inside Out, right down to the Picasso-esque “guides.” My seven-year-old godkid found it “too scary” at first, with the fall down the manhole into what seemed like “death,” but quickly came around to the playful blobs, a cat-human body switch, the jokes and the music — and asked if she could see it again. And again. Soul is crazy clever, funny, profound, and ultimately hopeful…while asking some of the big questions that the grown-ups, and some of their kids, have been pondering in the past year.

Quick Takes

From Dwight Brown at National Newspaper Publishers Association:

Passing the love of jazz on to a younger generation, cloaked in the sweetness of an animated movie, is a genius move. Full Review

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