Oscar-winner Pete Docter has crafted some of Pixar’s finest films (“Monsters, Inc.,” “Up,” “Inside Out”), filling them with heart, humor and humanity. His latest, “Soul,” continues that pursuit, exploring nothing less than the meaning of life through a temporarily deceased middle-aged middle-school music teacher. The movie brims with life lessons, the emotional heft of which prove a gut punch for Mom and Dad and a source of bewilderment for the kids.

By exploring the unexpected joys in ordinary life and finding one’s place in the world, Docter and co-writer and director Kemp Powers (the upcoming “One Night in Miami”) show an admirable inclination to dig deep into the existential.

The story begins the day Joe Gardner (Jamie Foxx, terrific) finally gets his big break - a chance to perform with jazz great Dorothea Williams (Angela Bassett). But Joe, known among friends as “Mr. Close but No Cigar,” tumbles into a Manhattan manhole, landing on a conveyor belt headed toward The Great Beyond. Fleeing in the other direction, Joe, now a blue-tinted blob topped by a fedora, goes rogue and winds up in another other-worldly land - The Great Before.

Here’s where Docter and his crew let their imaginations run wild, fashioning a fantastical realm where new souls (they look like the people pegs from the game of Life, but with fatter heads) get their personalities before heading to Earth. While there, Joe is charged with helping Soul No. 22 - a notorious problem child - to find a “spark,” aka her purpose or passion. It’s no easy task. Not even Gandhi or Mother Teresa could accomplish. “I made her cry,” 22 deadpans about the latter in Tina Fey’s voice. “Why do you sound like a middle-age white woman?” Joe asks.

Good question, Joe. Fey’s voice work proves a miscast; worse, a distraction. But that’s not the only confoundment. A hippy sign-twirler named Moonwind (Graham Norton) helps lost souls and rambles metaphysically about loopholes in the system that will let Joe return to his old existence through an area called the Zone - the space between the physical and the spiritual. Huh? Somehow the filmmakers expect kids to comprehend this. I saw it twice and am still scratching my head.

Eventually, the story morphs into a more age-appropriate body-swap comedy. Joe and 22 don’t stick the landing on their re-entry to life, he winds up as a cute talking tabby called Mr. Mittens, and she resides inside Joe’s body. Cue the giggles. From a subway rat stealing pizza, to licking the perfect lollipop to hijinks with hair clippers to a grownup splitting his pants, kid-friendly shenanigans ensue as Joe helps 22 navigate the streets of New York City to see what’s so great about life. Turns out, there’s a lot when you stop to let it all soak in.

For Joe, life is all about the music, and “Soul” features original jazz by the great Jon Batiste and a space-age score composed by Oscar-winners Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross (“The Social Network”). The music indeed provides the film with its “spark.” Ditto for a strong supporting voice cast including Questlove, Daveed Diggs and Phylicia Rashad.

In the end, it’s Joe who is forced to see his own middle-age existence through the eyes of a child, predictably learning his life was never “sad and pathetic.” Regular, old living is where it’s at. That certainly is a takeaway that soothes this almost-50-year-old soul.

Dana Barbuto may be reached at dbarbuto@patriotledger.com or follow her on Twitter @dbarbuto_Ledger.

“Soul”
Cast: Jamie Foxx, Tina Fey, Questlove, Daveed Diggs, Phylicia Rashad, Angela Bassett. Disney+ starting Dec. 25.
(PG for thematic elements and some language.)
Grade: B+