After a few iffy efforts – at least by its own lofty standards – Pixar follows the marvelously mind-bending Inside Out with a Mexico-set adventure that bubbles with wit and daring. Effortlessly gliding between kid-friendly spectacle and heart-tugging emotion by way of surrealist touches and a hilariously specific recurring joke about Frida Kahlo’s unibrow, Coco is a goofy joy from start to finish.
Committing full bore to its setting – Mexico’s Day of the Dead festival – Coco introduces its hero, 12-year-old Miguel (voiced by newcomer Anthony Gonzalez), as a frustrated musician growing up in a family where music is banned. On the eve of the festivities, he encounters a magical guitar that sends him spinning into the afterlife on a quest to find his great-great-grandfather, a puffed-up matinee idol, and win his blessing to become a musician. Cue songs, colour, a scrappy canine sidekick and skeletons galore in a glorious tribute to Mexican tradition.
In the spirit of writer-director Lee Unkrich’s last movie, Toy Story 3, genuinely tough themes are tackled (illegal immigration and dementia) without the mood ever souring. If it’s a tier below the studio’s very best, its freshness still bodes well for Pixar’s future. This is a charm.