Pixar's latest original is a return to grand form

Remember back when it seemed Pixar could do no wrong? When the studio changed the animation game and every release was seemingly just another modern classic?

Then somewhere around, oh, let's say, “Cars,” things got a little less predictable. You can't catch lightning in a bottle every time, and Pixar has still never really released a “bad” movie, but the originals were no longer a guarantee.

Then you've got the animator returning to the sequel well. Look, “Toy Story 2” was magical (and only recently passed by “Lady Bird” as the best-reviewed movie ever on Rotten Tomatoes #hinthint), but Pixar is at its best telling an original, one-off story. “Finding Dory” was no “Finding Nemo.”

Enter “Coco,” a movie that has both Pixar's knack for the timeless, and that couldn't feel more timely and culturally important in the moment.

Miguel (voiced by Anthony Gonzalez) is a young Mexican boy with dreams of becoming a musician. One problem with that dream? His family forbids music. Not just playing it or practicing it, but even listening to it.

While the family business is shoemaking, there's a connection to music that is the reason it is so strictly forbidden. And investigating the mystery takes Miguel into his family's past … and to the Land of the Dead.

There he meets a colorful cast of deceased characters, including his own musical idol, Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt).

“Coco” operates in the vein of some of the best Pixar concepts, starting with “Toy Story.” In this case, it's an approach to both family history and death that are both smart and kid-friendly.

It's also a warm and rich portrayal of Mexican culture that works in generalities that come with the cartoon territory. And, in a timely nod, the Land of the Dead alludes to its own border crossing in a way that's not heavy-handed or overtly political.

It's also an ode to the power of music and features a colorful style inspired by the celebration of Dia de los Muertos.

And while “Coco” does occasionally spin its wheels a bit, clocking in close to two hours, it really sticks the landing. Remember the tears that came with the beginning of “Up”? Have your hankies ready for the end of this one.

Fair warning: “Coco” is preceded by an interminably long 21-minute “short” from Disney's “Frozen.” This wasn't screened for critics, but the consensus is it's best to show up late, especially if you have anxious little ones in tow.