The beginning of the movie is structurally brilliant: you see our protagonist Joe Gardner (voiced by Jamie Foxx) suffering through the high school band class he's teaching. In five minutes, we've learned about his life, that he loves Jazz, that this isn't the job he wanted, but he's nevertheless really trying to teach these kids. He's even reaching one or two of them. And over the afternoon, he's hit with a full time school job offer and a chance to play with a Jazz legend he worships. In his enthusiasm he fails to pay attention to the world around him ... and dies (maybe-sorta). At this point we're ten minutes into the movie, and Pixar and director Pete Docter finally get us where they wanted to be to make their points: the afterlife. Or the before-life.
There's a long mid-section with Joe back on Earth - but in the body of a cat. I get why they did this, for two very different reasons: it forces Joe to see his own life from the outside, and it allows for slapstick comedy. I didn't mind the revelations about (his?) life, but I really wasn't keen on the awkward cross-body slapstick humour, which was over-used a decade ago.
And then there's the conclusion. The slapstick kept the kids entertained, while the parents listened to the life lessons ... and the conclusion is totally and completely for the parents. Oh, kids will probably be entertained, but the existentialist philosophy of the whole thing is only for the adults in the room. Weird.
The artwork when we're on Earth is functional. The artwork off Earth is quite lovely. And while I'm not a big fan of free form Jazz, I was very happy to listen to this soundtrack - it's very good. In the end, we have what I see as a very uneven construct that I mostly enjoyed, but don't think is one of Pixar's best efforts.