By the time it reaches its tearfully joyous finale, Pixar's Coco plays like the movie that the most fervent Pixar fans have for a generation been telling me I've been missing every time I haven't bawled my eyes out over the hurt feelings of plastic junk in the toybox. Rather than the quick welling behind the eyes I felt for Wall-E or the Toy Story 2 cowgirl, Coco had me crying for full minutes at its last scene, a Dia de los Muertos fiesta featuring sugar-skull fireworks, ranchera singalongs and that holiday sense of a family's enduring continuity in the face of time and death.
Gorgeous and funny, Coco offers most of the usual Pixar pleasures. Here's a kiddo's quest to define a self, in this case the descent of young Miguel (voiced by Anthony Gonzalez) into a land of the dead inspired by Dia de los Muertos celebrations. It's eye-popping, a richly layered underworld of Mayan architecture, of plazas and bell towers outlined in Christmas lights. Imagine if Mexico City somehow sprawled upward, part Blade Runner and part ofrenda altar, and then was populated entirely with high-spirited skeletons.
As always, the hero must brave the unknown, meet some new pals, escape some dangers and learn that family matters most. Coco sags a little in its middle with the weight of the familiar. But the cavalcade of skeletons and extravagantly psychedelicized alebrije spirit animals never stop dazzling, and Coco gets better and more resonant as it goes. When Pixar made me cry this time, it wasn't just for the characters on the screen. It was for the people I remember, and the ones I hope will remember me.