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    Joe Gardner 
https://static.tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pub/images/joe_gardner.png
Voiced by: Jamie Foxx

Joe Gardner is a middle school band teacher with a love for jazz music. After landing a successful gig at the Half Note Club, he suddenly gets into an accident that separates his soul from his body and ends transported to the Great Before, the place where all souls go before being born on Earth. With the help of a soul called 22, he must find a way to reunite with his body before he misses the gig of his dreams.


  • Cool Teacher: He appears to be very well liked as a teacher by the students and staff. His former student even admits the only reason he showed up to school was because of him. When he is recounting his memories near the end, we see him giving said student private lessons and encouraging his skills as a drummer.
  • Determinator: Once he finally gets the chance of a lifetime to play with a famous jazz musician, nothing, not even death itself, will keep him from coming back and performing that night. It's deconstructed later on because this is what causes him to push 22 away, who ends up becoming a Lost Soul. And his big night also fell short of his expectations. It adds to the central theme of the movie: having something you're passionate about is fine, but make sure it doesn't turn into a single-minded obsession that keeps you from enjoying all the other things in life.
  • Dramatically Missing the Point:
    • He assumes 22 only enjoyed music and human life because she was in his body. It takes another trip to the Great Before for him to realize that it had nothing to do with him, just 22 enjoying the human experience.
    • The entire thrust of Joe's journey is how he assumes a person's "spark" is their purpose in life and "piano is what I was born to do." It takes both a Jerry laughing at the idea and the big night of his dreams not giving him the fulfillment he thought he needed for Joe to realize he's been mixing the two up.
  • Face Death with Dignity: Joe voluntarily returns to the Great Before to give 22 a chance at life, knowing full-well that it would mean his own end. As he begins to ascend to the Great Beyond, Joe closes his eyes with calm acceptance as he draws nearer to the end. Ultimately subverted when he is given a second chance to live his life to the fullest.
  • Failed a Spot Check: He's so excited about getting his big break that it's a miracle he lasts as long past it as he does, narrowly missing several fatal accidents before finally stepping into an open manhole.
  • Fatal Flaw: His obsession with his dream of becoming a successful jazz musician has given him a severe case of tunnel vision, not only preventing him from enjoying the little pleasures of life and slightly alienating him from other people, but also making him dangerously unaware of his surroundings, which leads to him falling into an open manhole in the middle of the street, putting him in a coma that separates his soul from his body and kickstarts the plot of the movie.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Joe realizes forcing 22 to give up her Earth Badge to get his own life back was wrong, and returns to the Great Before to return it to her, knowingly giving up his own life in the process. While it's later subverted when the Jerrys, impressed by his selfless actions, decide to give him a second chance at life, he didn't know that was a possibility and was willing to die to let 22 live.
  • In-Series Nickname: Dorothea calls him Teach.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: He can be a little stubborn and impatient, especially when his dream as a jazz musician is involved but he is still an overall Nice Guy who cares about others, especially 22.
  • Look Both Ways: Joe never looks before crossing the street, which results in a lot of near-misses at the beginning. Falling into a manhole cover that he didn't see does him in.
  • Nice Hat: He has a very snazzy looking fedora.
  • No Social Skills: He is so consumed by his obsession he doesn't show much regard for any kind of social interactions. It might have been an exaggeration due to the traumatic experience he's going through in the movie, but everyone he knows says he only talks about jazz, his only romantic interest left him long before the movie started, and the movie opens with him stopping his class so he can explain to his twelve-year-old students the meaning of his life.
  • Parental Substitute: Slowly becomes this to his mentee 22, even saving her at the end and accompanying her by the hand like a good father comforting their child during a task that scares them.
  • Pursue the Dream Job: Variation — he's at the moment of choosing. He's torn between his long-sought-after dream of becoming a legitimate jazz musician (for a famous artist, no less) and a steady but less creatively fulfilling job teaching. He realizes that playing for Dorothea might also be monotonous, but the film keeps what he ended up choosing ambiguous.
  • Right for the Wrong Reasons: He figures 22 got her spark from living on Earth in his body because he already has his spark, so she just got his, reasoning that she didn't like anything until she was in his body. Turns out she just needed to experience life in general, not specifically Joe's life.
  • Took a Level in Cheerfulness: He goes from obsessively chasing his dream and feeling unfulfilled with his life to fully appreciate it and wanting to live it to the fullest.
  • A Tragedy of Impulsiveness: Most of the problems he gets into are due to his own hastiness and lack of patience.
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom: He lashes out at 22 when the latter refuses to give his body back, telling her she’ll never find a purpose in life. This hurts 22 so much that she becomes a Lost Soul obsessed at the idea of never finding a purpose.
  • Wanting Is Better Than Having: When he finally realizes his dream of playing with Dorothea in a real jazz band, he feels it wasn't as rewarding as he thought it'd be.
  • Was It Really Worth It?: All that Joe wants is to play with Dorothea in a real jazz band, but when his efforts finally pay off, he finds out that his dream isn't as special as he expected, compared to all the other wonderful moments he had in his life.
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     22 
https://static.tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pub/images/22_84.png
Voiced by: Tina Fey

22 is a cynical, mischievous soul that has trapped herself in the Great Before out of a sheer, stubborn refusal to pass on. During the movie, she's assigned to Joe accidentally.


  • Almighty Idiot: As a Lost Soul, she trades sanity for power.
  • Ambiguous Gender: While 22 is played by and referred to by cast as female for the sake of clarity, 22 doesn't Technically have a gender yet, and demonstrates how she can alter her voice (and presumably her perceived gender) by mimicking a young child, an old man, and Joe himself, adding that she sticks with the voice she's currently using because it irritates everybody around her. The same goes for the Jerrys (voiced by both men and women) and Terry, as they aren't referred to by any gender.
  • Ambiguous Innocence: She’s a soul that has spent her long existence without being born and thus has a lot of Ping-Pong Naïveté. There's also her combination between her cynicism and her mischievousness, which makes it hard to gauge her maturity and mental age.
  • And Then John Was a Zombie: She becomes a Lost Soul after hitting her Despair Event Horizon. She gets better.
  • Big Eater: After discovering the joy of food by finally being able to taste things in Joe's body, she is shown constantly snacking on various foodstuffs, much to Joe's chagrin.
  • Broken Bird: Spending eons in the Great Before and all of her mentors giving up on her have hurt her more than she is willing to admit.
  • The Cynic: Is this, having been in the seminar for so long that she's developed a dim view of life. She literally refuses to get a life, believing life on Earth to be nothing but a grinding, soul-crushing experience.
  • Deadpan Snarker: She has a few shades of this, mostly around Joe.
  • Despair Event Horizon: She reaches this after Joe, in a fit of rage, tells her she will never have a purpose in life. This causes 22 to become a Lost Soul.
  • A Form You Are Comfortable With: Inverted. Despite being thousands of years old and having no predefined gender, she prefers to talk like a nagging middle-aged woman because it annoys people the most.
  • The Gadfly: Very much so, she's an absolute Troll and damn proud of it.
  • His Own Worst Enemy: The climax reveals this is the case with 22. The reason all her previous mentors have never been able to help her find her spark was because she pushed them away out of self-doubt that she's not good enough to have a life. It takes Joe to get through to 22 and help her come out of her shell.
  • Immortal Immaturity: She's likely been around since the dawn of human civilization, yet she talks and acts like a bratty teenager.
  • Jerkass Façade: She puts on a tough front that she is content with how she is in the Great Before, but at the end it's suggested that after so many years of never getting her spark and being put down by her various mentors has resulted in her believing she doesn't deserve it.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: One of the many reasons why she doesn’t want to have a life on Earth is because, as a newborn soul with no body, she can't feel anything (no taste, no smell, no touch, etc.) even when her hypothetical life is simulated, something that even Joe complained about. It’s only after accidentally entering in Joe's body, that she starts to enjoy every simple things of life on Earth.
  • Long-Lived: Gets her name because she is the 22nd soul to have ever existed. To suggest how long this has been, the soul that was named before her was in the hundred-billions.
  • No Social Skills: As Joe. Justified as she's never had an actual life before and doesn't have any concept of typical norms, resulting in her running around town in nothing but a hospital gown, openly talking about her experiences in the Great Before with people, and generally making Joe look like he has lost his marbles.
  • Punny Name: Doesn't want to live on Earth and wants to get rid of her badge so she won't have to. However, she can't get rid of it unless it turns into an Earth Pass, and that won't happen unless she gains the desire to live. She's in a Catch-22 Dilemma.
  • Sense Freak: After taking over Joe's body, and Joe brings her some pizza.
  • Sour Outside, Sad Inside: She acts very cynical, sarcastic and displays a lack of interest in life in general but she reveals to Joe that she feels very insecure due to spending eons without discovering her "spark" and secretly doesn't think she's good enough for life on Earth.
  • Sticky Fingers: As Joe, she has a habit of swiping mundane things that interest her, such as a bunch of suckers or a spool of thread.
  • Superpowered Evil Side: After becoming a Lost Soul, her Soul Power, as that is what it truly is, starts to manifest as Lovecraftian Superpowers such as Super Strength (enough to pull down Moonwind's boat and sink it with brute force and deliver a Curb-Stomp Battle to Terry, who previously had no problem capturing both her and Joe), very creepy shapeshifting and creating a Pocket Dimension filled with The Heartless to suffer uninterrupted, at the cost of becoming a Wild Child in a constant self-inflicted state of Mind Rape.
  • Time Abyss: We don't know exactly how much, but she's a literal old soul who has been around in the Great Before for a long, long time. To put it into perspective, the soul introduced before her was numbered in the hundred-billions. She's soul 22.
  • Tragic Monster: As a Lost Soul, she becomes this in the final act.
  • The Unreveal: We never find out who she becomes after accepting to be born on Earth.
  • Vague Age: Souls have Complete Immortality and as her "name" implies, she's only the 22nd soul ever made, which would technically make her the oldest character in the movie short of perhaps the Jerries and Terry, but she mostly acts like a young child.
  • Voluntary Shapeshifter: And Voice Changeling — she can look and sound like whoever or whatever she wants to.
  • Wild Child: Becomes outright feral as a Lost Soul, hissing and screeching at others and cowering and running like a scared animal.
  • You Are Number 6: She is the 22nd soul to be made in the Great Before.

The Great Before

     The Counselors 

Voiced by: Richard Ayoade, Alice Braga, Wes Studi, Fortune Feimster and Zenobia Schroff

The Counselors are a group of astral beings who counsel new souls and get them ready for life on Earth. All of them are called "Jerry".


  • Above Good and Evil: They're neutral to Earth's affairs, giving souls both negative and positive personality traits seemingly at random and leaving them to sort it out in their lives.
  • Blue-and-Orange Morality: Downplayed. The Counselors are genuinely benevolent beings who make it so every soul is their own unique individual and are adamant about giving each one a chance at life. One of the Counselors even suggests they stop giving so many souls a self-absorbed personality, implying that they want these souls to be good people. However, at least one of them didn’t seem to mind when one of the souls gained personality traits that would make them The Sociopath on Earth, laughing it off as being the planet's problem to deal with.
  • Eldritch Abomination: The Counselors are a very benign example of this. One of them outright says their true forms are beyond mortal understanding and are taking A Form You Are Comfortable With, but they are incredibly kindly and endlessly patient with all the souls they encounter.
  • A Form You Are Comfortable With: Their superficially humanoid appearance is stated to be them taking a form that feeble mortal brains can comprehend.
  • Non-Standard Character Design: They're 2D-animated; having a design consisting exclusively of lines leads them to have movements far more free-flowing and ethereal than any of the other characters.
  • Planet of Steves: All the Counselors have named themselves "Jerry" for convenience to mortal souls.
  • Pet the Dog: After Joe helps 22 regain her spark for life, they all decide to award him with a second chance and let him go back to Earth.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: To contrast Terry, they only want to make sure that ALL souls are ready for life on Earth and are more flexible and understanding of Joe's situation than Terry is.
  • Voluntary Shapeshifting: They can freely change their appearance at their convenience, such as growing an extra arm or becoming a living transport or a building for an assembly.

     Terry 
Voiced by: Rachel House

Another astral being who works as an accountant of the souls who go to The Great Beyond.


  • Ambiguous Gender: Like the Jerrys, Terry isn't referred to by any gendered pronouns, although other source material use female pronouns for Terry since they are played by Rachel House. It's also not clear if the concept even applies here considering that Terry is an astral being.
  • Attention Whore: Partly motivated in chasing down Joe because they want recognition for their work. At the end, they have the Jerrys make up an awards ceremony just for themself, which is really only to inflate their own ego.
  • Celestial Bureaucracy: Their job is to keep track of the soul count and double-check any discrepancies by going through endless file cabinets.
  • Control Freak: They want to keep their soul count perfectly on track, to the point of going to extreme lengths whenever a soul makes their count off. They're implied to have some kind of Super OCD.
  • The Determinator: Terry will go through filing cabinets of every being that's ever died in alphabetical order to determine exactly who is it that's missing from their count. Once she finds it, she searches Queens for Joe, retracing his steps to find him.
  • The Friend Nobody Likes: The Jerries, while nice to Terry, don't seem to like them that much.
  • Eldritch Abomination: If what the Jerries said is true, then their real form is also beyond mortal understanding and is taking A Form You Are Comfortable With.
  • Expy: Terry is Rachel House's character Paula from Hunt for the Wilderpeople but transposed into Soul's setting: a Small Name, Big Ego Inspector Javert going outside their assigned role to hunt down our heroic duo no matter what while also not really respected by their peers. And naturally, portrayed by the same actress.
  • Hero Antagonist: Downplayed. There is nothing heroic about Terry, but their intentions aren't evil, either. Their pursuit of Joe is actually quite justified considering that Joe is trying to cheat the system for a selfish reason after a death that he brought upon himself. However, their only reason for trying to fix the problem is because Joe threw their meticulous counting off and they hate being wrong.
  • Inspector Javert: Terry's job is to make sure that the soul count is in order. When she notices the soul count is off, she searches through numerous filing cabinets for the unaccounted soul. After that, she spends the rest of the movie looking for Joe to return him to the afterlife.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: While they aren't the nicest of the astral beings, and they only care about their job being done correctly, they're somewhat justified in calling out Joe for cheating the afterlife system.
  • The Napoleon: Terry is the shortest astral being, only being beaten out by newborn souls, and is very domineering about correcting their soul count. When they succeed at their task, they demand an award ceremony from their peers to celebrate the occasion.
  • Non-Standard Character Design: Like the Jerrys, Terry is animated in 2D.
  • Odd Name Out: The only astral being with a different name because they're a soul counter, not a counselor.
  • Pet the Dog: They immediately apologize to Paul for mistaking him for Joe, and they even give him advices about how he can live longer (i.e. No eating too much processed food).
  • Small Name, Big Ego: They have a far greater opinion of their position as an accountant than the Jerries do.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: They give a short but harsh one to Joe for cheating death.

     Moonwind 
Voiced by: Graham Norton

Moonwind is a mystic who helps lost souls in the Zone get over their obsessions.


  • Almighty Janitor: He works as a sign spinner on Earth and is very good at saving lost souls from their obsessions.
  • Bunny-Ears Lawyer: Despite being pretty weird, he is really good at helping lost souls.
  • Happiness In Minimum Wage: He works as a sign-spinner in Manhattan, but likes it and is even quite Zen about it. For him, it's turned into a form of meditation while he helps souls in the Great Before.
  • Magical Asian: Moonwind and his crew are human mystics who are in touch with the spirit world. Two of them are a man meditating in the Philippines and a woman playing an instrument in Tibet. The last to explain is a "shamanic healer" in California.
  • New-Age Retro Hippie: Moonwind and his crew draw a lot from hippie aesthetics; they have names like "Windstar Dreamermoon", ride on a bright pink ship with tie-dyed sails, and a peace-sign anchor and the American members have alternative lifestyles. Moonwind himself is a mangy guy who turns signs as a day job.
  • Nice Guy: Despite being eccentric, he is a good soul who only wants to help others.
  • Noodle Incident: Apparently, he was once a lost soul due to an obsession with Tetris.
  • Odd Friendship: With 22, as he is one of the few beings they get along with.
  • Someone Else's Problem: After Joe and 22 fall into the portal he created and it closes up behind them, Moonwind just drops his staff and whistles as he walks away.
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Joe's family, friends, and acquaintances

    Curley 
Voiced by: Questlove

Curley is a former protégé of Joe Gardner who now works as a drummer in the Dorothea Williams Quartet. When the band is in need of a piano player, Curly recommends his former mentor, presenting Joe with the opportunity to live out his passion.


  • Last-Name Basis: A respect-based variant. Joe says he can call him by his first name, since he's an adult now, but Curley still reflexively calls him "Mr. Gardner." (Anyone who's remained in contact with a teacher after graduation can probably relate.)
  • Nice Guy: He is a kind, friendly person who wants to help his old mentor achieve his dream.
  • Vague Age: It's unknown what his exact age is, but he's likely in his twenties, given that he is a former student of Joe, who is in his forties.

    Libba Gardner 
Voiced by: Phylicia Rashad

Joe's mother, who runs a tailor shop and disapproves of her son's ambitions.


  • Adult Fear: In their heart to heart, Libba finally admits to Joe that she disapproves of his musical ambitions so strongly because she watched his father spend his life on his passion, but never able to support his family with it. It was her business that kept the family afloat. As he is unmarried and has no children of his own to support him, she's terrified Joe won't be able to support himself after she is gone.
  • Aw, Look! They Really Do Love Each Other: Despite not agreeing with Joe's dream, she does love and worry about him.
  • Fantasy-Forbidding Father: Libba discourages her son from chasing one-off gigs and instead encourages him to pursue a stable career as a music teacher, the reason being she doesn't want her son to struggle with maintaining a steady income like her husband did. Later subverted when Joe (or, rather, Joe directing 22 while she's in his body) convinces her to support him when he tells her how passionate he is about his upcoming gig.
  • Hidden Depths: When she first appears, she seems a typical nagging mother who sees Joe's dream as unrealistic and wants him to pursue a mundane career. Later, when Joe finally confronts his mother, we find out the real reason for her apathy: Joe wanted to follow in his father's footsteps to become a jazz musician, but even when his dad was alive and successful, it was Libba's business that paid most of the bills and Libba is scared that Joe will end up like that but with no one to help him should something happen to her. Regardless, she comes around to supporting Joe's dreams and admits that she's proud of him no matter what he does with his life.
  • My Beloved Smother: She pressures Joe to accept the teaching job instead of becoming a professional musician.

    Dorothea Williams 
Voiced by: Angela Bassett

Dorothea Williams is a famous jazz musician whom Joe idolizes.


  • The Diva: A downplayed example. She's framed as the height of jazz performers, and definitely has sway over who plays and how in her band. She's quick to hire, fire, and challenge her bandmates to keep up. Her experience in the field also gives Joe the advice he needs to hear about the difference between chasing the dream and living it.
  • Hidden Heart of Gold: She's stern and aloof, but she does give Joe a chance because she can see how good he is, and because Curley vouched for him. When Joe admits getting his dream isn't like he imagined, she doesn't get upset and even implies she understands how he's feeling.

    Connie 
Voiced by: Cora Champommier

A student in Joe's music class.


  • The Cynic: Goes to Joe declaring that she wants to quit jazz because she thinks it's stupid, but turns around after a pep talk from 22.
  • Sugar-and-Ice Personality: She acts like she hates everything, but when she stops being self-conscious and just lets herself enjoy playing, it's clear she loves it.
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    Dez 
Voiced by: Donnell Rawlings

Joe's barber.


  • Animal Lover: He planned to become a veterinarian, and doesn't mind when 22-as-Joe shows up with a cat in tow.
  • Happiness In Minimum Wage: Reveals his dream was to be a veterinarian but had to settle for barber school after his daughter got sick because it was much cheaper. However, he adores his job because he gets to meet and help all kinds of interesting people—exactly why he wanted to be a veterinarian in the first place.
  • Hidden Depths: Joe knows him as the best barber around, but he actually originally wanted to be a vet—he became a barber when his daughter got sick and he needed to earn money quickly. He found he actually loves it, because he gets to talk to all sorts of people.
  • Nice Guy: Immediately bumps Joe to the front of the line when he sees what he did to his hair, and doesn't object to him keeping a cat in his lap while he works.

    Paul 
Voiced by: Daveed Diggs

A regular at the local barber shop.


  • The Chew Toy: Between being read in front of everyone at the barbershop—much to the others' amusement—and being dragged into the astral plane by Terry before Terry realizes that they got the wrong guy, Paul has a very bad day.
  • Hidden Depths: He's genuinely insecure, and can be heard reassuring himself that "Julia Child didn't get started until she was 49!"
  • Inferiority Superiority Complex: He always tries to drag other people down, but as Joe guesses (and 22 says outright), it's because he's insecure and feels like a failure himself. When told as much, Paul notably doesn't try and dispute it.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: He's a jerk about it, but he's not wrong when he says Joe's entire career has been a series of "almosts". Of course, he doesn't know that this time really is different.
  • Sitcom Arch-Nemesis: He's described as Joe's neighborhood nemesis. They clearly don't get along, but Paul's more of an annoyance than anything, especially when compared to the threat of Joe being permanently disconnected from his body.
  • Troubled Fetal Position: Getting trapped in the astral plane, having his soul ripped out and shoved back into his body, and witnessing an otherworldly astral being leaves Paul a whimpering, quivering mess.

    Mr. Mittens 
A therapy cat from the hospital Joe's body was in while his soul was separated.
  • Acrofatic: He is a fat cat but effortlessly chases Joe across the subway.
  • Advertised Extra: He became this through the movie's date changes to practically being a Walking Spoiler. Later trailers, merchandise, and products for the movie would lead you to believe he somehow becomes a member of a Power Trio with Joe and 22 or is actually Joe's pet cat. Of course, Joe does spend a decent amount of the film in Mr. Mittens' body, so Mittens is physically a large role. In fact, given Joe appears in both human and soul forms on the poster, you can interpret Mr. Mittens as representing Joe himself.
  • Animal Gender-Bender: Like Mochi in Big Hero 6, he's a male calico cat. Such a thing is technically possible, but very rare.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: In-universe, when Joe inadvertently bodyjacks it, he and 22 wonder what that means for the cat. Cue a Cutaway Gag to the cat's soul meowing confusedly on the conveyor to the Great Beyond. Apparently, it never went through or was recovered, because it seems just fine when everyone is set right later. Word of God stated in an interview that the soul ended up going to the Great Beyond, but that cats have nine of them so it wasn’t a huge loss. This was originally going to be clarified in the movie but was cut for time.

     Dr. Bjorn Börgensson  
A Nobel Prize-winning psychologist who was originally supposed to be 22's new mentor.
  • The Ghost: He is seen only through memory bank footage and does not appear in person.
  • Inkblot Test: In a flashback we see him treat a patient using this technique.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Since Joe took his spot as 22's mentor, we never see what became of him.

     Lisa 
A woman who, according to 22, Joe thinks about a lot.


  • Ambiguous Situation: It's unknown if she is Joe's ex-girlfriend or just someone he admired but chose not to pursue due to "not having the time for a relationship".
  • The Ghost: She is only mentioned in the film, she never appears on screen.


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