It's with vibrant detail that Coco bursts onto cinema screens. A tale of following your heart while honouring your family, Pixar's latest effort is both a colourful sight to behold and an exuberant journey; a film exploding with dazzling visual and emotional fireworks. Within frames heaving with intricacy, there's never a dull moment as the movie sashays from modern-day Mexico to the Land of the Dead during the country's Dîa de los Muertos celebrations. Often it's the little things that stand out, from the grain of the many flowers never far from view, to the weathered skeleton bones that literally dance through the streets, to the melancholy look on an old woman's face.
That's the animation studio's forte, of course. It's the reason their talking toys filled us with joy, that their rodent chefs charmed us, and their feelings with feelings left us in tears. As Toy Story, Ratatouille and Inside Out all demonstrated, their films might paint with pixels rather than living people, but they vibrate with the texture of reality. Coco fits the mould perfectly, at once a lovingly realised venture into several new worlds and a familiar mosey through Pixar's usual terrain. What if the dead had feelings is just one of the questions it asks. What if we confronted our own feelings about death is another.
Helmed by studio veteran Lee Unkrich (Toy Story 3) with writer and first-time co-director Adrian Molina at his side, Coco takes its name from the grandmother of 12-year-old Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez). While she sits quietly through the last phase of her life, still yearning for the father she lost when she was a girl, he dreams of being a musician, but is forbidden by his music-hating family. Their reasons for this stem from personal tragedy, but it's not enough to stop Miguel from strumming his guitar. His desperation to retrace the footsteps of his entertainer hero (Benjamin Bratt) eventually leads him beyond the mortal coil, on a quest to find his great-great-grandfather and win his musical blessing.
If Alice in Wonderland had followed a Mexican boy chasing his dreams, or if Marty McFly had taken the DeLorean through the barrier between life and death, Coco might very well have been the end result. The spirit of these youthful adventures seeps through this film, in a manner that proves delightful rather than derivative. Indeed, this is a story about remembering your past even as you step into the future. As well as following Pixar's own tried and true template, the script weaves its influences into a moving escapade bearing the expected touches, but never failing to surprise. That remains true even if you've seen The Book of Life, the outwardly similar 2014 animated effort that also sees its characters frolicking through the Mexican afterlife.
It mightn't be the first family-friendly feature to play in this territory, or the first to explore the conflict between ambition and responsibility. Nevertheless, Coco enchants with warmth and authenticity from start to finish. In fact, as bright as its images shine, as high as its heartfelt emotions soar, and as perfectly as its voice cast fill their roles — including Gael García Bernal stealing scenes as a dead prankster — it's the film's embrace of its setting and culture that truly makes it sing. This isn't Pixar playing tourist south of the border, but paying tribute: to people, songs, lives and beliefs. The gorgeous detail that infuses every frame is a testament to seeing what others often don't, and it couldn't encapsulate Coco's beauty better.