After the recent disappointments of “Cars 3” and “Finding Dory,” Pixar rebounds nicely with “Coco,” a big, spangly animated fiesta with its fair share of “heart.” It lacks the delirious inventiveness and irreverence of the best Pixar movies (which for me would be the “Toy Story” trilogy, “The Incredibles,” and the first 10 minutes of “Up”), but there’s always something spacious to look at, and the songs, mostly by Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez, aren’t bad either (although I dread the inevitable overproduced "best original song" production number at the Oscars).
The storyline follows 12-year-old Miguel (voiced by Anthony Gonzalez), whose family for generations has banned musicmaking because his guitar-playing great-great-grandfather ditched his wife and daughter to pursue his career. Through a series of plot convolutions and revelations, Miguel is transported to the Land of the Dead on Día de los Muertos, the Mexican holiday invoking the spirits of the dead. There he seeks out his idol, the superstar musical performer Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt) and forges a connection with the itinerant Héctor (Gael García Bernal), who turns out to be more integral to Miguel’s life than he could possibly have anticipated.
The animation, under the direction of Lee Unkrich and Adrian Molina, doesn’t quite expand into the full-blown magical realist lyricism that I believe was intended, and the preponderance of skeletons and death imagery may be less off-putting than by rights it should be. Within its own conventional terms, though, “Coco” is true to its heartfelt ambitions. And there are moments, such as the scene in which Héctor bids farewell to a “dead” friend who vanishes into the ether because people in the Land of the Living have ceased to remember him, that are as powerful as anything in the Pixar canon. Grade: B+ (Rated PG for thematic elements.)