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"What would you want to be known for on Earth?"

"We only have a short time on this planet. You want to become the person that you were born to be. Don't waste your time on all the junk of life. Spend your precious hours doing what will bring out the real you. The brilliant passionate you, that's ready to contribute to something meaningful into this world."
Joe Gardner

Soul is a 2020 animated film by Pixar. It is directed by Pete Docter (Monsters, Inc., Up, Inside Out) and Kemp Powers, (who was also one of the film's screenwriters) starring Jamie Foxx, Tina Fey, Questlove, and Phylicia Rashad. The film released on Disney+ on December 25, 2020, making it Pixar's first direct-to-digital film upon release (albeit strictly for circumstantial reasons); a release on conventional home media and VOD platforms followed on March 23, 2021. The film, along with Luca and Turning Red, eventually got a theatrical release in early 2024.

The plot centers around Joe Gardner (Jamie Foxx), a middle school music teacher in New York City who dreams of performing jazz music on stage. One of his past students invites him to audition for a legendary saxophonist, who is so impressed by his playing that she hires him for her quartet. However, after Joe suffers an accident on the way home, his soul ends up separated from his body. While being transported to a place called the Great Beyond, he panics and falls into the You Seminar (formerly the Great Before), an ethereal plane of existence where souls develop personalities and passions before being transported to a newborn child. Joe must work with 22 (Tina Fey), a soul-in-training with a dim view on life after being trapped for years in the You Seminar, in order to return to Earth and get back into his body before it's too late.

Not to be confused with the book, nor with the Malaysian horror film Roh whose name means "Soul" in Malaysian and is sometimes listed under that English name. Soul was supposed to be released in theaters with the Pixar Short Burrow, but in the United States both films were released digitally. In some international markets they did play together in theaters.

A Spin-Off short called 22 vs. Earth was released on Disney+ in 2021.

Previews: Teaser, Trailer, Sneak Peak, Trailer 2

Soul contains examples of:

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  • 555: Every phone number seen in the movie, (including the brief shot of the phone number on the paper from the "take one" poster 22 picked up) begins this way.
  • Accidental Suicide: Joe is excitedly talking on the phone about how he finally got a gig and narrowly (and obliviously) dodges a bunch of dangers. Then he accidentally falls to his death into a manhole, which sets off the movie's plot.
  • Afterlife Angst: This is how Joe makes it into the Great Before. Refusing to accept the fact that he's dead, he attempts to escape the conveyer belt to the Great Beyond, only to accidentally wind up in the Great Before. He then spends a decent amount of the film time trying to get back to his body from said area. Luckily, it turned out to only be a Near-Death Experience for him.
  • Afterlife Antechamber: When Joe dies, he ends up on a conveyor belt in a dark void that moves him slowly toward a bright light, which is described as the Great Beyond. Beneath the conveyor belt is an even trippier void that leads to the Great Before (a.k.a. the You Seminar).
  • Alternative Foreign Theme Song: The Japanese version uses a jazz remix of Juju's "Kiseki Wo Nozomunara" as the ending theme.
  • Ambiguous Ending:
    • It isn't clear if Joe chooses to join Dorothea's band or becomes a full-time teacher after getting his second chance at life (assuming he did either of those things). He only says that he is going to live.
    • This applies to 22. We don’t see where her soul ends up, just that she finally chooses to go to Earth.
  • Angry Dance: At one point 22 sarcastically suggests getting into break dancing as a way to deal with her disputes.
  • Animal Talk: When Joe tries to speak in a cat's body to anyone besides 22, all they hear is meowing. Moonwind seems to be able to understand Joe in cat form, possibly because of his experiences in the Zone or because he's communicated with Joe's soul before. It's not entirely clear whether he does or not.
  • Anticlimax:
    • Joe's single-minded determination to get the gig finally pays off… and it's in a series of quick cuts where Joe seems to lack that same spark from before. Joe himself lampshades this, expecting it to "feel different".
    • In a more comedic example, after opposing Joe throughout the film, Terry is defeated when one of the Jerrys pulls a "Look over there" and messes with the count, allowing Joe to return to life with Terry none the wiser. Given Terry isn't actually a villain, and not as smart or competent as they think, it's quite fitting.
  • Artistic License – History: At one point, Abraham Lincoln is mentoring 22 when she mentions that Lincoln is on the penny while Andrew Jackson is on the $20 bill. It is established early on that mentors guide new souls before moving on to the Great Beyond, so this is presumably taking place shortly after Lincoln's death. However, Lincoln's face was not minted on to the US penny until 44 years after his death in 1909, and Andrew Jackson's face wasn't featured on the $20 bill until 1928.
  • Artistic License – Medicine: We see that Joe's accident left him in the hospital on a ventilator. Usually, the next-of-kin is notified about a loved one becoming comatose, and Joe had his phone with all of his contacts. Likely the paramedics and administrators should have called Joe's mother rather than leave him tethered to a ventilator for several hours with no one knowing where he is. (In fact, his mother might have gone easier on him on learning he nearly died and is being stubborn about playing despite his Near-Death Experience.) Instead, they don't seem to care when he successfully sneaks out of the hospital, with the doctor being more baffled that Joe has risen with no serious physical injuries and wants to make sure he doesn't have head trauma.
  • Art Shift: Scenes set on Earth are rendered realistically, mainly in earth-tones and lit warmly. The You Seminar has simplified, more cartoony designs and a rich palette of saturated pastel colors. The realm between the Great Beyond and the You Seminar is rendered in Cel Shaded black and white.
  • Ascended to a Higher Plane of Existence:
    • When it's time, human souls ascend to the Great Beyond, with some taking a detour to the You Seminar to mentor young souls.
    • Humans can "get in the zone" and straddle the gap between life and the Great Beyond. If they fall into an obsession, though, their souls become trapped in the Zone while their earthly bodies listlessly move through life.
  • As Himself: An odd example, in which John Ratzenberger, Pixar's longtime "good luck charm", has a non-speaking cameo role in an animated feature.
  • Ask a Stupid Question...: As Joe is about to ascend to the afterlife. One of the Jerrys interrupts him and asks if he has a moment.
  • Astral Projection: Anytime a human concentrates very hard their soul enters "The Zone", a literal zone in the spiritual world. Mystically sensitive people like shamans and mystics become aware of this and can explore the zone and interact with other souls.
  • Avoid the Dreaded G Rating: While the film's content is on par with the rest of Pixar's fare, the scenes with the new souls repeating "Hell" and one instance of 22 saying "hellish" seem like they were added to keep the film rated PG.
  • Banana Peel: Subverted in the montage where Joe is excited he got the gig and runs through dangerous places. He didn't slip on any of the banana peels in front of the grocery store, nor did the nails right after hurt his feet. Ultimately, it's falling down a manhole that separates his soul from his body.
  • Big Applesauce: On Earth, the film mainly takes place in Queens, but there are some shots of other parts of New York throughout.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Joe returns to his body and resolves to treasure his life to the fullest. While he does show 22 the beauties of life on Earth, he will likely never see 22 again due to her starting a new life and incarnating as a different person. And when 22 ends up traveling to Earth legitimately, the shot seems to be heading to the middle of Asia, a hemisphere across the world from where Joe lives. And even if they were lucky enough to meet again, it was established earlier in the movie that born souls don't remember their time in the Great Before, so the person whose soul is 22 wouldn't have any memory of Joe or their adventures with him.
  • Blatant Lies:
    • 22's hideaway can be entered through a cardboard box and the sign next to it says "Just a box".
    • The Jerrys give Joe another chance at life. When Joe asks about Terry, Jerry A answers that they worked it out with Terry. Jerry B actually distracted Terry from her abacus when she was about to realize the count was off again and moved the bead that represents Joe over while she wasn't looking.
  • Blue-and-Orange Morality:
    • Downplayed. The Jerrys 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 Jerrys 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 the Jerrys 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 Earth's problem to deal with.
    • Terry, the accountant, is obsessed with getting the soul count right and spends the movie hunting Joe down to return him to the Great Beyond, essentially killing him again. Terry isn't depicted as being malicious or bad for doing this, as they are just doing their job. However, considering that the Jerries eventually give Joe a second chance at life and rig the count to show that Joe has passed through without any negative consequences, it would seem that setting the count right isn't as important as Terry would have you believe.
  • Boring, but Practical: Joe's teaching job. He really wants to play in a band but his mother points out that he should take the full-time job because it has benefits and a steady income.
  • Both Sides Have a Point: Between Joe and his mother. Joe wants to accomplish his dream and play in a band because he is very passionate about music, but his mother points out that that lifestyle is very unstable and if it doesn't work out he won't have anyone to help him if she was to pass away.
  • Brick Joke: The rap group sample plays at the end of the credits.
  • Brutal Honesty: Joe decides he's finally going to give his mother a dose of it, after she's been belittling his desires through most of his adult life.
  • Catch-22 Dilemma: Punny Name aside, 22 herself is stuck in this scenario. She wants to get rid of her badge so she will never be born, but to do so, it has to be turned into an Earth Pass, which only happens when a newborn soul finds their "Spark" (i.e., their desire to get a life of their own).
  • Celebrities Hang Out in Heaven: 22's past mentors include Gandhi, Abraham Lincoln, Mother Teresa, Nicolaus Copernicus, Muhammad Ali, Marie-Antoinette, Carl Jung and George Orwell.
  • Celestial Bureaucracy: Terry's job is to keep track of the soul count and double-checks any discrepancies by going through endless file cabinets.
  • Censorship by Spelling: Subverted when, at the You Seminar, Joe asks if he's in "H-E-Double Hockey Sticks". All the new souls around him begin saying "Hell" over and over.
  • Cerebus Call-Back: When 22 reveals that she's gone through hundreds if not thousands of mentor figures in the You Seminar, we are shown a montage of her annoying several of them and them declaring 22 a lost cause. Later on, in Lost Soul state, 22's insecurities and belief that she really is a lost cause and doesn't deserve to have a life on Earth are represented by ghostly visages of the same mentor figures (now including Joe himself) calling 22 hopeless, which she actually tries to weaponise against Joe.
  • Chekhov's Gun: When first meeting, 22 tells Joe that reverse psychology would not work on her. Only for her to experience what she has been missing out on and get the spark she needs to live. As pointed out in Reverse Psychology down below.
  • Clingy MacGuffin: New souls have a badge on their chest that tracks the traits and attributes they acquire over their development. Until it's completed and becomes an Earth Pass, it can't be removed from them for very long, always appearing back on their body in short order, and destroying it creates an identical one just as quickly.
  • Close on Title: This is the first Pixar film to not have the title displayed until the very end.
  • Contrived Coincidence:
    • Joe, who wants to get back to Earth, just happens to be paired with the only soul in the Great Before that doesn't want to and is willing to give up her Pass to him.
    • Moonwind, the leader of the mystics (who come from all around the world) who helps Joe try and get his soul back into his body, works only a few blocks away from Joe's house.
    • Of all people, it's Dorothea who emerges from the taxi that Joe hailed while dressed in a hospital gown.
  • Conveyor Belt of Doom: Zig-zagged. The road leading to the Great Beyond appears as a conveyor belt, though most souls are either accepting or apathetic toward their fate. Joe is the exception, at least at first.
  • Covers Always Lie: Both the first poster and the teaser prominently feature Joe in his human form, which lead many to believe that this was going to be a more "mundane" Pixar movie like Up. Of course, it's while he's not in his body the whole time, human Joe is the character/body who appears the most throughout the film.
  • Credits Gag:
    • New souls can be seen goofing around as the credits roll.
    • The "Production Babies" part of the credits (a list of the names of children born to Pixar staff members during the making of the film) is retitled "Recent You Seminar Graduates".
    • The final shot before the end logos roll say, in addition to the usual "Created by Pixar" text: "...and in homes at least six feet away from each other in the Bay Area", referencing the fact the animators worked at home due to the COVID-19 Pandemic.
    • At the very end of the credits, Terry appears and admonishes any remaining viewers that the film is over and they should go home, a la Ferris Buller or Deadpool at the end of their films. (Telling viewers to go home is unintentionally ironic because most viewers have been streaming the film at home anyway.)
  • Cue Card Pause: A flashback to 22 annoying Muhammad Ali has the latter announcing "You are the greatest ... pain in the butt".
  • Cutaway Gag: Whenever 22 cites some of her thousands past mentors, the scene is cut to show us them being annoyed by 22's antics. Special mentions go to Mother Theresa, Copernicus, Muhammad Ali, Marie Antoniette, Carl Jung, Abraham Lincoln, and Archimedes.
  • Day Hurts Dark-Adjusted Eyes: When 22 in Joe's body and Joe in the cat's body step out of the hospital into the blinding New York sun, 22 reacts in shock and shields her eyes due to sunlight being a completely foreign feeling to her. Joe, who's been blinded by sunlight many times, doesn't react at all.
  • Dead to Begin With: Downplayed, Joe believes and denies that he has died very early on in the film, kickstarting the plot. In truth, he is just barely clinging onto life and sets out to return to it.
  • Death by Falling Over: Joe gets killed by falling into a manhole but the cause of death is left ambiguous. He is later able to step right out of his hospital bed without any severe injuries.
  • Department of Redundancy Department: When Terry announces to the two prime Jerrys that she's going after Joe, they both, in turn, tell her to do it quickly and quietly.
  • Despair Event Horizon: During the movie's climax, 22 becomes a Lost Soul when she believes she has no purpose after she is pulled back from Earth. Joe returns to the Great Before to pull her out of this.
  • Desperately Looking for a Purpose in Life: Zig-zagged; 22 sees no reason to want to have a life and would much rather stay in the Great Before. When she's forced to experience life in Joe's body, she learns to love it and doesn't want to leave. At the same time, this attitude is deconstructed because the Great Before isn't about assigning a purpose. The whole point of getting the Spark of Life that completes a soul's development is simply being inspired by the desire to live at all. It's fine to seek a passion in one's life but having a passion is just a part of the whole of living, all of the other parts are important to living fully. This is best emphasized by people becoming Lost Souls when they become too obsessed with staying in "The Zone".
  • Deus ex Machina: Joe willingly returns to the You Seminar to allow 22 to finally start living on Earth, knowing full well that there's absolutely no turning back. As Joe calmly accepts his fate on his way to the Great Beyond, one of the Jerrys offers a second chance to return him to Earth out of sheer gratitude for helping 22 to find their spark.
  • Divine Misfile: Joe isn't exactly misfiled as he ends up escaping the Great Beyond on his own; however, the celestial beings do mistake him for a mentor and go much of the movie not realizing his true identity. Joe's escape does end up throwing off the count, and the accountant, Terry, spends the entire movie trying to set it right.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?:
    • The Great Beyond is an enormous light that all dead souls enter. Doing so is accompanied by a puff of smoke and crackling sound, similar to a bug zapper. This tells Joe to avoid it at all costs.
    • The Jerrys want 22 to find her spark, but she resists it and causes trouble. She's similar to a disobedient child not realizing the consequences of her action; namely, she can't live or grow up. The Jerrys are so desperate that they rope in Joe to help her, mistaking him for a child psychologist.
  • Double-Meaning Title: Referring both to the genre of music, heavily intertwined with the jazz that is Joe's passion, and the spiritual type of soul, with most of the movie centering around Joe trying to reunite his soul with his body.
  • Drives Like Crazy: 22 admits to having failed the You Seminar's "Body Test Drive" course 436 times.

  • Easter Egg: When Joe visits his mother's dress shop after ripping his pants, Ming's dress is seen on a dress form in Libba's atelier.
  • Enfant Terrible: When explaining how souls acquire their personality traits in the You Seminar, a new soul is shown that has megalomaniacal, manipulative and opportunistic bastard traits, with Jerry laughing it off as Earth's problem.
  • Even the Loving Hero Has Hated Ones: A flashback reveals that even Mother Theresa took a dislike to the hero's sidekick 22.
  • Extremely Short Timespan: The entirety of the film takes place in a single day, barring the final shot which takes place the next morning. It helps that time in the Great Before doesn't exactly matter.
  • Eye Cam: When Joe awakens in the hospital bed, we see the scene from his POV with blinking eyes. This leads up to the reveal that he incarnated into Mr. Mittens' body.
  • Face Death with Despair: Upon realizing he'd died just after landing the gig of his dreams, Joe refuses to go to the Great Beyond, running away, insisting it's not his time, and pretending to be a mentor to get out of dying.
  • Face Death with Dignity: Everyone else on the conveyor belt leading into the Great Beyond besides Joe is completely accepting (or just apathetic) towards going into the afterlife. When Joe gives up the Earth Badge at the end for 22, he also accepts that this means he'll have to go to the Great Beyond.
  • Fantasy Sequence: There is a sequence of Joe imagining getting a Soul inspired to be a piano player and taking off with its badge to make it in time to the jazz gig.
  • Five-Second Foreshadowing: Doubles as a Freeze-Frame Bonus. When Terry returns Joe and 22 to the Great Before, 22 can be seen with an Earth Pass before Jerry points it out.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • Near the beginning of the film, Joe says he "would die a happy man" if he could perform with Dorothea Williams. At the end, he does indeed get his chance to perform, but finds it wasn't as fulfilling as he imagined it was. He then gives back the Earth Badge he took from 22, peacefully accepting this will result in his death.
    • When Curley introduces Joe to Dorothea Williams, he refers to Joe as "The cat I told you about". While "cat" tends to be slang for Jazz Musicians, Joe finds himself in the body of a cat during the course of the film.
    • When Joe is running through the city, talking about the gig with Dorothea Williams, he is barely paying attention to what is happening around him, setting up his character arc for the film.
    • Joe learns about getting into "The Zone". Near the end, after finally getting back to his body, he later gets into this to find 22.
    • Moonwind states that while his passion was Tetris, his main occupation is helping Lost Souls in "The Zone". This foreshadows that a passion and a purpose are not always the same thing.
    • Joe is warned that souls become "lost" if they become obsessed with something. When 22 enters a Despair Event Horizon when she loses her chance to return to Earth, she becomes a Lost Soul herself during the movie's climax, obsessed with her self-perception as a failure.
    • 22 explains that as a soul, she can take on any form and voice, and she demonstrates by turning into a replica of Joe. Later on, 22 gets stuck in Joe's physical body.
    • In a bit of a blink-and-you'll-miss-it moment, after Jerry explains how new souls go to Earth by finding their "spark", he can then be heard rhetorically asking "And what is this spark?" before Joe gets too distracted by his own Imagine Spot to hear the answer. Without that crucial piece of information, Joe assumes the "spark" is one's passion/purpose in life, but it's later revealed that the "spark" is really just the desire to live.
    • Joe's mother is dismissive about her son's audition with Dorothea Williams, commenting that it's "just another gig." When the performance happens, it's made clear that she was right - as great as it was, it wasn't the life-changing experience Joe assumed it would be. His supposed dream is just as much of a job as his teaching position and isn't the sole purpose of his life. In the end, it was just another gig to play.
  • Format-Specific Joke: The Stinger has Terry telling the audience to go home now that the movie has ended. The film was originally meant to be released in theaters, but it was instead released on Disney+ due to the COVID-19 Pandemic, meaning most of the audience was already watching it at home.
  • A Form You Are Comfortable With: The first Jerry Joe meets explains that the abstract forms she and the others take are a simplified version of their true selves because human souls couldn't comprehend them otherwise. 22 later says that this is true for everything in the spirit world and that she only sounds the way she does because she decided it's the most annoying. If she wanted she could sound like anyone, even perfectly mimicking Joe.
  • The Freelance Shame Squad: When Joe bows down to pick up his hat, the seat of his pants rips open and a crowd of people behind him start laughing. Not least because of the Goofy Print Underwear showing underneath.
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus: In her house, 22 has a wall of all of the name-tags from her previous mentors, which shows a wide range of Historical Domain Characters. Among them is Joe Ranft, who was an animator and writer for Pixar until he died in 2005. There's also a name-tag for Jack Kirby.
  • Gag Haircut: Joe in cat form tries to give his body a haircut but slips with the trimmer, leaving a bare strip running down the middle of his head.
  • The Ghost:
    • 22 constantly brings up a girl named Lisa who's in Joe's thoughts. Joe implies that she's an ex-girlfriend, and though she never appears, 22 can tell that Joe is still thinking about her a lot and says he should give her a call. Joe replies that he has no room in his life for a relationship right now, another indication that he's letting himself be too obsessed with jazz.
    • In the Great Before, Joe is mistaken for a Nobel Prize-winning psychologist named Bjorn P. Börgensson who was intended to be 22's next mentor. Dr. Börgensson is seen only through memory bank footage and does not appear in person.
  • Goal in Life: Deconstructed. While it's a good thing to have a dream or passion, being obsessed with it is not. Life offers many possibilities and interests to enjoy, and being focused on just one of these will not make you happy nor complete. This is best exemplified by The Lost Souls who are turned into monsters driven by the desire to fulfill their obsessions.
  • Going Down with the Ship: Moonwind does this when 22 as a Lost Soul drags the ship down.
  • Go into the Light: How the entrance to the Great Beyond is portrayed. Souls travel down a long, astral conveyor belt until they reach a large pool of light in the middle of space, which they walk through with an eerily bug-zapper-like sound.
  • Good-Times Montage: Joe finds all the little stuff that made 22 love life and plays an impromptu song on his piano, a scene which is intercut with various seemingly inconsequential moments of his life where he was genuinely happier and more fulfilled than he thought.
  • Go Out with a Smile: When Joe approaches the Great Beyond for good after getting 22 to Earth, he faces it calmly with a gentle smile instead of panicking heavily like he did the first time he appeared there.
  • Gosh Darn It to Heck!: subverted. Joe says “H E double hockey sticks”… and then all the new souls start cheerfully repeating “hell! hell! hell!”
  • Grand Theft Me: Though it happens accidentally at first, 22 ends up in Joe's body and Joe ends up taking over the body of a cat. While trying to find a way to get Joe back in his own body, 22 discovers that she really likes living on Earth, and then decides to run away with Joe's body so that can continue to live.
  • Happy Flashback: Towards the end, Joe recalls happy events from his life while sitting at his piano.
  • Hard Truth Aesop: It is entirely possible, and even quite likely, that you don't actually have a "purpose" in being alive or some grand reason you were put on this Earth—and even if you do have one, no one is going to just hand it to you. Whatever your reason for living, whether it's destiny or something you make on your own, you're gonna have to figure that out for yourself. Some people never figure out what their purpose is, and that's okay. Just enjoying life is reason enough to be alive. Though one could interpret your purpose in this endeavor is to just live life.
  • 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 Jerries, 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.
  • Hidden Depths: Having 22 interact with people in his life while in Joe's body causes Joe to realize things about them he never knew, as 22 is curious about their lives and asks a lot of questions Joe never thought to.
  • Historical Domain Character: Many, many famous souls have tried and failed to mentor 22 over the centuries. Mentioned include Abraham Lincoln, Muhammad Ali, Gandhi, Mother Teresa, Marie Antoinette, and Copernicus.
  • Historical Downgrade: Played for laughs with all of 22's mentors before Joe. Regardless of the patience, tolerance, and tact they had in real life, they are all blunt and upfront when they quit on her.
  • Hope Spot:
    • When Joe is told about the Earth Portal, he hurries and jumps into it, only to be flung back to the Great Before. This is also a bit of foreshadowing that Joe is too narrowly focused on himself and his own goals, as he was too absorbed in his own thoughts to hear Jerry explaining that souls need an Earth Pass.
    • Joe manages to get hurled back to Earth with the help of the mystics, but he messed up the procedure with his own hastiness. As his vision clears, he thinks it worked, but then he notices his own unconscious body, sees his paw hands, and realizes his soul got sucked into the therapy cat, while 22 ended up in his body.
  • I Do Not Like Green Eggs and Ham:
    • 22 spent millennia in the You Seminar not wanting to go to Earth and being completely apathetic towards all of its possible experiences. After accidentally being forced to spend a day on Earth in Joe's body she finds she loves it and doesn't want to go back.
    • As a teenager, Joe didn't think much of jazz until his dad pushed him into it. The moment he actually heard a performance, he fell in love with the genre and dedicated the rest of his life to trying to become a jazz musician.
  • Ink-Suit Actor: This is the first feature film Pixar ever made that does not have a voice part for John Ratzenberger. However, in a nod to the tradition, the filmmakers included a background character drawn to look like Ratzenberger. He is wearing a white shirt and red tie and can be seen on the subway at the 1:08 mark.
  • Innocent Swearing: The child-sized souls that say "Hell" repeatedly.
  • Instantly Proven Wrong: Right when 22 proclaims that they don't have to worry about time at the Great Before, Counselor Jerry appears remarking that mentoring time is up.
  • Ironic Echo: The first time we get a look at Joe's life events, it's played up as being boring and mundane, key among these events is Joe sitting all by his lonesome in a diner. Later, after looking back on his life and how meaningful it was on its own, we see that same diner memory, but it's played up as a simple but sublime moment that Joe ate a delicious pecan pie.
  • It Is Not Your Time: This is said by Terry to Paul after she accidentally pulls him into the afterlife believing him to be Joe (whose body she didn't know at the time was occupied by 22). Terry returns him to Earth assuring him that his time hasn't come yet, though his time might come pretty soon if he doesn't stop eating unhealthy foods.
  • I've Heard of That — What Is It?: This exchange:
    Joe in cat form: We gotta see Dez.
    22 as Joe: Great. (Beat) Who's Dez?

  • Jerkass Realization: After Joe's barbershop gets engaged in an engrossing conversation that bounces from topic to topic and learns personal details about Dez that Joe never heard about despite being a years-long patron, Joe begins to learn that he's been very self-absorbed in his interactions with others.
  • Kids Are Cruel: During the prologue in Joe's music class, Connie really gets into playing her trombone, and skillfully at that. And how do her peers react to this musically gifted girl? By laughing at her. She comes within a hair of giving up band altogether before 22 (in Joe's body) inadvertently talks her into sticking with it.
  • Laser-Guided Amnesia: In the mentor introduction video, a Jerry tells the new mentors they've already been in the Great Before as new souls, but don't remember—because, as he tells them with a wink, "forgetting the trauma of childbirth is one of the great gifts of the universe!"
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall: At one point, Joe asks 22 why she sounds "like a middle-aged white woman". Tina Fey, a middle-aged white woman, voices 22. 22 then goes on to say that a soul can choose any voice they wish, but she chose this one because it annoys people the most.
  • Let Me Tell You a Story: When Joe mentions to Dorothea that he is surprised he doesn't feel elevated after landing the job, she tells him the fitting story about the young fish wondering where the ocean is.
  • Life-Affirming Aesop: Joe and 22 do their best to find 22's spark to gain an Earth Pass so Joe can resurrect, and 22 stays in the Great Beyond. Each one learns about themselves and even about finding a purpose for living.
  • Logo Joke:
    • The Disney credit in the beginning has a terrible orchestration of "When You Wish Upon a Star" being played by the inexperienced band class Joe is teaching. As it segues through the Pixar credit, Joe announces that they should try another number before it cuts to the middle of one of his classes.
    • The second trailer begins with Joe falling past the Pixar logo as the lamp looks at him.
  • Look Behind You: At the end, the Jerrys decide to give Joe another chance at life by tricking Terry into looking away from the abacus for a moment and shifting one soul bead so she doesn't notice they gave one soul a freebie.
    Jerry: Hey! Terry, what's that over there?! Look! Immediately!
  • Loony Friends Improve Your Personality: 22 is the loony who shows Joe how to enjoy the little things in life.
  • Marilyn Maneuver: 22 really enjoys the wind coming from the ventilation grate below.
  • The Mind Is a Plaything of the Body: A mishap leads to 22 in Joe's body while Joe ends up in a therapy cat. Joe is subject to all of a cat's instincts, like napping in the sunlight or chasing after spots of light, while 22 experiences Joe's love of music after previously expressing apathy towards it (though considering that Joe told her this in a fit of anger, her enjoyment of music is likely genuine).
  • Mistaken for Profound: When 22 in Joe's body, tells Dez and the other barbers and patrons in the barbershop about her existence as an unborn soul, everyone assumes that she's speaking metaphorically about life and seem to relate.
  • Mood Dissonance: Joe gets his big break playing for Dorothea Williams' quartet, makes his mother proud, and gets invited to join the band. However, since he got there by angering 22 into giving up her Earth pass after she finally wanted to live, the whole thing rings hollow despite the triumphant tone, and Joe himself starts to have doubts after.
  • Naked People Are Funny: In a throwaway gag near the beginning, one of the souls heading up into the Great Beyond exclaims how she's not wearing pants (in Korean) and tries to cover herself up.
  • Nature Versus Nurture: Downplayed. While the film presents souls gaining their personality traits in the You Seminar (thereby skewing towards Nature), they gain their interests by experiencing them firsthand. And as proven by Dez, hopes and dreams aren't everything and can be shaped by life experiences.
  • Near-Death Experience: Joe's fall into the manhole and refusal to go to the Great Beyond kickstarts the plot, during which he's able to reflect on his life.
  • Needle in a Stack of Needles: Terry has to find Joe's file in a huge archive. Being the Determinator that he is, he eventually succeeds.
  • No Antagonist: The closest thing to an antagonist is Terry, and while she does try to capture Joe and 22, it's not out of malice or hatred. She's just doing her job of accounting for every soul that's supposed to pass from Earth to the Great Beyond, if only a bit obsessively. The worst Terry does is leaving someone she mistakenly caught instead of 22 (who she didn't know was in Joe's body at the time) badly traumatized.
  • No Endor Holocaust: When Joe finally gets back into his body, the therapy woman catches Mr. Mittens, confirming he survived as a normal cat despite his soul being shown on the conveyer belt earlier. Then again, it might be a literal example of the proverb that cats have nine lives.
  • Non-Standard Character Design:
    • In contrast to the rest of the cast, the Jerrys and Terry are 2D-animated and look like living cubist paintings.
    • 22 has a different design than the rest of the unborn souls. Could be justified as she's all but stated to have been in the Great Before a lot longer than the rest of the unborn souls, meaning she's older as a result.
  • Not-So-Innocent Whistle: After Moonwind and his gang's attempt to restore Joe's soul to his original body goes horribly wrong (landing him inside a cat's body instead), Moonwind walks away from the astral plane portal whistling.
  • Not Where They Thought: When Joe falls off the conveyor belt leading to the Great Beyond after he's fallen to his death in a manhole, he ends up in the Great Beforenote . He briefly mistakes it for heaven and hell, but one of the Jerrys tells him where he actually is.
    Joe: Uh, hey, uh, is this heaven?
    Jerry: (chuckles) No.
    Joe: ...Is it H-E-double hockey sticks?
    Young souls: Hell, hell, hell hell, hell!
  • Not Your Problem: One of the new souls flat out states they are going to be a megalomaniac who is manipulative and power-hungry. Though Jerry admits that they may be a handful, they just say it's Earth's problem.
  • Offscreen Afterlife: We never really see what happens to a soul when it goes to the light called the Great Beyond, so it's left unclear if it is an afterlife, where the souls are judged to be sent to an afterlife, if the souls reincarnate like in some religions, or if the souls simply cease to be and become a part of the light itself.
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • Joe learns that he hasn't done anything meaningful in achieving his dream.
    • Said verbatim by Joe when he realizes his mom already knows about the gig.
  • Old Shame: Joe's rap group. He tries to stop 22 from watching them perform when the two review Joe's memories.
  • Only Mostly Dead: Joe's quest to return to his body is only possible because he's barely clinging to life in a comatose state as an Empty Shell, rather than completely dead. But if he passes through the Great Beyond, he'll be dead completely.
  • On Second Thought: Joe doesn't like the thought of becoming a mentor but when one of the Jerrys presents him with option B (Go into the Light), he quickly changes his opinion on the mentoring job.
  • Our Souls Are Different: Souls in the Great Before are small, greenish ghost-like creatures. Before being incarnated in newborn people, they undergo formal training in how to lead their lives and develop interests and personalities. Souls headed to the Great Beyond, meanwhile, are small caricatures of who they were on Earth. So are the mentors, who consist primarily of historical figures with good reputations. Lost Souls are the souls of the living who are trapped in The Zone because of their obsessions and are turned into dark hulking creatures, while their bodies listlessly move through life. As shown with 22, unborn souls can also become lost.
  • Pieces of God: It's never explicitly shown what happens when a soul crosses into the Great Beyond. Aside from the Jerrys, there's no God present, the film heavily leans towards the theological concepts of Panentheism (or Pandeism). Every soul is a tiny part of the incomprehensibly vast universe, that is trying to learn and understand itself. Everyone is birthed by the universe from nothing, must live a life in the physical world to gain an invaluable experience, and return to the universe after death. This is why Joe freaks out when he sees the light absorbing everyone bound for it, knowing he'll lose his individuality and freedom to have his own dreams, if forced to enter.
    Terry: Thought you could cheat the universe!? Well, you thought wrong!
  • Place Beyond Time: The Great Before and similar dimensions don't really have time in the same way the Earthly realm does.
  • Posthumous Character: Joe's dad has passed away before the events of the film, but he is discussed several times to be a musician that inspired Joe to chase after his dreams, and he is even shown in some flashbacks. Despite being a dead character in a film about the afterlife, his deceased soul never makes an appearance as he has already passed on into the Great Beyond.
  • Pop-Star Composer: Jon Batiste, whose jazz music was an inspiration for the animators, wrote some new songs, while the score itself was by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross of Nine Inch Nails.
  • Production Throwback: When Joe and 22 are trying pizzas in the Hall of Everything, one of the pizzas visible is the broccoli pizza from Pete Docter's previous Pixar feature, Inside Out.
  • Pyromaniac: When Joe tries to teach 22 firefighting, the latter adores the flames rather than the act of fighting them.
  • Race Against the Clock: Joe has to make it to the club at 7 pm to secure his dream job. He also has to rendezvous with Moonwind at 6:30 to get back to his body.
  • Refusing Paradise: After ending up in a coma and on the brink of death, Joe appears on a conveyor belt leading to the Great Beyond. Deciding that he still has much to live for, makes a run for it and manages to escape, and spends much of the rest of the movie trying to return to his body on Earth and avoid being brought back to the Great Beyond (though whether or not the Great Beyond is a paradise is never revealed).
  • Reverse Psychology: 22 thinks that Joe is playing tricks on her when claiming that he is not actually a mentor.
  • Rule of Drama: Joe-as-Mr.-Mittens instructing 22-as-Joe in telling his mother why he loves jazz so much is presented as Joe-as-Joe giving the speech after the first few words so 22 repeating what Joe is saying won't get distracting.
  • Rule of Symbolism: During Joe/22's conversation with her, Joe's Mom is a bit hurt and steps away from the warm lighting of the lightbulb and into the cooler natural lighting outside the window.
  • Scooby Stack: When Joe and 22 emerge from the hospital elevator and look around the corner of the lobby, they assume this pose.
  • "Shaggy Dog" Story: Terry's plot. She's so determined to make sure the soul count is correct that she spends unquantifiable time searching file cabinets for one soul, then the rest of the movie hunting him down. At the end, the Jerrys sneak Joe back to life by distracting Terry and rigging the count. And that's how it'll stay.
  • Shout-Out:
    • Moonwind mentions Tetris was his passion.
    • Pizza Rat makes an appearance, in a scene where Joe brings a pizza slice to 22. Joe and the rat stop and look at each other for a moment before moving on.
    • The Mystics sail around to the tune of "Subterranean Homesick Blues."
    • The shot of the stairway is inspired by Powell & Pressburger's classic A Matter of Life and Death.
  • Spirit World: The Great Before and adjacent realms and dimensions serve as this as they are the home of many new souls before they are sent to Earth, and the celestial beings that guide them.
  • Stealth Pun:
    • Joe finds himself in a cat's body. "Cat" is a slang term for a Jazz Musician.
    • 22 needs to find a reason for living, which she can only find by living life. She's in a catch-22.
    • Souls are named in the order that they're made, with some being in the hundred-billions. This makes 22 an old soul.
  • The Stinger:
    • The final piece of footage is Terry popping up from beneath the screen and saying "Oi! Movie's over! Go home!"
    • For the score, we hear the full song of the rap group Joe was in.
  • Strolling Through the Chaos: Subverted. Joe almost gets buried under building material, makes it alive across a busy street without looking, evades a flood of banana peels and nails, only to fall into a manhole.
  • Strong Family Resemblance: We see Joe's father in a few flashbacks; he and Joe are almost completely identical.
  • Stylistic Suck: Joe's band class is incredibly bad at playing music, especially noticeable when they attempt to play "When You Wish Upon A Star" during the Logo Joke.
  • Subways Suck: Joe in cat form voices his resentments towards the New York City Subway:
    [The subway] wears you down. It stinks. It's hot. It's crowded. Every day the same thing, day in and day out.
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome:
    • Joe falls into a manhole. In most media, an accident like that would be easily brushed off and Played for Laughs. In this film, such a fall sends Joe into a comatose state where he's barely clinging to life. Subverted in that once he's back in his body he's running around seemingly with no injuries, broken bones, or any negative effects, not even a mild discomfort or sore muscle. Shocking for someone who was literally on the brink of death earlier that day.
    • While getting out of a cab, Dorothea sees 22 in Joe's body wearing nothing but a hospital gown. Instead of brushing it off as a one-time thing, she immediately decides he's mentally unfit for the gig and hires someone else. It's only after Joe takes back his body and talks to her before the gig that she changes her mind.
    • After playing with Dorothea, Joe wonders what happens next, and she answers they do the same thing every night. Realizing it sounds too much like routine, Joe voices how he hoped fulfilling his dream would make him feel different for once. It's Dorothea who has to spell it out that sometimes, fulfilling your dream isn't going to make your life more exciting all at once. It's but a milestone, and sometimes, you may not realize you're already living a good life.
  • Sweet and Sour Grapes: For most of the film, Joe is attempting to cheat death and return to his mortal body, instead of moving on to the Great Beyond where he belongs. In the end, he has made his peace with death and is ready to go to the Great Beyond. Only then does Jerry allow him to return to his life in an approved, legitimate manner (even if Jerry needed to trick Terry to make it happen).
  • Take That!: To entertain herself, 22 knocks people out of their "zones." One of those people happens to be a player for the New York Knicks, and 22 mentions she's been messing with the team for over a decade.
  • Tearing Through the Movie Screen: The corrupted 22 and Joe tear through the theater screen during Terry's award ceremony, prompting the Jerry to take Terry's award back.
  • Tempting Fate: On the way home from his audition, Joe walks through an active construction site, into traffic, past a pile of banana peels, into traffic again, then falls down an open pothole, setting the events of the film into motion.
  • That Poor Cat: The Jerry has trouble pulling 22 on stage for the pairing with his new mentor Joe. We hear a lot of offstage sounds including a shattered glass and a yowling cat before 22 finally appears.
  • Time Abyss: Judging from her insanely low designation, Number 22 has been around since the birth of humanity.
  • Two-Faced Aside: Early on, Joe tells one of his pupils that he is a good player but then whispers to the principal "He is not."
  • The Unreveal:
    • We, along with Joe, never find out what became of 22 after she finally descends to Earth in the end.
    • Joe never goes to the Great Beyond because he is given a second chance at life by the Jerrys, so it's never revealed what the Great Beyond even is or what happens to a soul that enters it.
    • Whether Joe went back to being a music teacher, continued to play for Dorothea's band, or did both or something else entirely, is also left to the viewers' imagination.
  • Unusual Euphemism: 22 refers to human fingers as "bendy meat-sticks" as she complains about being in Joe's body. Later on, Terry refers to the human body as a "meat suit" as she puts Paul's soul back into his body after accidentally catching him instead of Joe and 22.
  • Unusually Uninteresting Sight: Played with; the movie is partially set in New York, and 22 in Joe's body doesn't attract nearly as much attention as you think he should walking around in only a pizza-stained hospital gown, talking openly to a cat. When he meets someone who recognizes him however, like Dorothea and her band, they immediately take pause and respond accordingly to his bizarre appearance. Moonwind is also a resident, and when 22 and Joe in his aforementioned getup talks to him, his boss shoos them away because she's already got one weirdo, and his job is drawing customers.
  • The Voiceless: Despite Esther Chae being cast as Miho, a bassist in Williams' band, she doesn't actually utter a single word throughout the film. This left a lot of people to assume that her contributions were scrapped at the last minute.
  • Voices Are Mental: Averted. While we hear 22 and Joe speaking in the human world in their regular voices, everyone else hears Joe's voice and a cat meowing, respectively.
  • Wandering Walk of Madness: Lost souls who wander through "the zone" can become obsessed on a single fixation, which can corrupt them and erode their sanity.
  • Wanting Is Better Than Having: After a lifetime of failures, close calls, and rejections, and spending the whole movie trying to make it back into his body, Joe finally achieves his life long dream, plays with Dorothea Williams in a show and gets hired to play with her quartet full time. Yet Joe still feels unfulfilled, and says that he expected it to feel different. Tying into the film's themes, this is because it's a worthwhile endeavor, but not the sole thing Joe should be living for.
  • Wham Line:
    • After 22 gives Joe her Earth Pass, he finds out that "spark" doesn't mean what he thought.
      Joe: We never found out what 22's purpose was.
      Jerry: Excuse me?
      Joe: You know, her spark. Her purpose. Was it music? Biology? Walking?
      Jerry: We don't assign purposes. Where did you get that idea?
      Joe: Because I have piano. It's what I was born to do. That's my spark.
      Jerry: A spark isn't a soul's purpose. Oh, you mentors and your passions. Your "purposes". Your "meanings of life". So basic.
    • Later, when Joe asks Moonwind where 22 is.
      Moonwind: I'm afraid she's become a Lost Soul.
  • What Is This Feeling?: One of the issues in the You Seminar is that the Souls are unable to actually feel or taste anything. So when 22 gets into Joe's body she experiences a sensory overload as she takes in the sheer multitude of the world that she's never experienced before.
  • The World Is Just Awesome: 22 falls in love with life when she experiences all the tiny sensations that Joe and others take for granted, at one point admiring something as simple as leaves falling from a tree. Joe also later reminisces about past times when he just sat back and enjoyed life, and some of those times are just him enjoying the scenery around him and imagining the beauty of New York City at night.
  • You Are Number 6: All of the new souls in the You Seminar are referred to only by their number, such as 22. The numbers are actually implied to represent in which order they came into being.
  • You Didn't Ask: When 22 in Joe's body asks Dez the barber why he never talked much about his own life before, Dez's response is this trope. Dez explains that he operates under the philosophy that the one in the chair is the boss, and since Joe is single-mindedly obsessed with music and has only ever chosen to talk about jazz, he's never told Joe anything about himself.
  • You Were Trying Too Hard: For all of 22's pre-life, the Jerrys have assigned her the most famous and accomplished historical figures as mentors to help find her spark, and none could help convince her to give Earth a try. It took actually going to Earth with a random band teacher from New York to finally obtain it and give living a go. The implication is that all of her previous mentors have over-emphasized the need to be exceptional, thus intimidating 22 and leaving her feeling inferior, while her experiences on Earth showed her that it's the little things in life and the connections you make with people that truly make life worth living.


Call Me Jerry

Jerry introducing herself to Joe.

How well does it match the trope?

4.54 (13 votes)

Example of:

Main / SesquipedalianLoquaciousness

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