Remember when Pixar was the gold standard of quality animated films? Back to the time of “Wall-E” and “Toy Story” and “Monsters Inc.?” After a string of serious missteps (“Cars 2,” “The Good Dinosaur”), their team of creative artists are finally back to form with “Coco,” a visually rich and equally touching movie. It may not be their very best work to date, but the film explores different cultures, the meaning of family, and life and death in a fully unique and imaginative way.

Young Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez) loves music and is particularly drawn to his idol, the late musician Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt). Miguel’s family has forbidden music of any kind so the boy sneaks off to secretly play his guitar while watching old musicals on his t.v. After a strange evening in a crypt, Miguel finds that he has crossed over from the human world and into the colorful Land of the Dead. He meets up with his departed loved ones and eventually joins forces with an unusual trickster named Hector (Gael García Bernal) to forge a journey to discover Miguel’s true family history.

I applaud Pixar for creating a film set entirely in Mexico and featuring exclusively Mexican characters, but for every lesson of cultural acceptance and understanding we’re given a scene with a typical stereotype like a giant sombrero, shots of tequila, yapping chihuahua. Original and traditional music peppers the scenes with gorgeous guitars and traditional horns.

I love the rich complexity of the story and its go-for-broke originality is something truly special. There are a couple of twists and turns that are obvious, but they in no way undermine the impact of this delightful, meaningful film. This is an animated film made more for adults than kids, as expressed by the themes of cherishing your loved ones and doing your best to ensure their memories will forever live on in the hearts and stories of future generations. Children may be bored at best or frightened at worst. Parents should note that most of the characters appear as skeletons, albeit colorful and smiling ones, and some of the subject matter is so harsh that it teases the film’s PG rating.

Even better than the story are the colorful, vibrant visuals. They’re an absolutely stunning visual feast for the eyes. The animation is among the best I’ve seen, with an impeccable attention to every little element and perfectly creating a rich and vibrant fantasy world of the dead (and the harsh reality of the living). Some of the scenery is so incredibly detailed that it tends to blend into the background, but that’s a very minor criticism of this handsome looking movie.

While the film gets a little too heavy on the forced sentimentality towards the end, “Coco” elegantly expresses a tender and heartfelt message about the undying love of family. It’s also the best animated film I’ve seen all year.

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