Opening Wednesday, Nov. 22

In its prime, Pixar was impossibly reliable, churning out original family films jammed with creativity, wit, and sophisticated emotional intelligence. Think Toy Story, Monsters, Inc., Finding Nemo, or WALL-E.

We didn’t know how good we had it. Now Pixar is a subsidiary of omnivorous Disney, and its last two films (Finding Dory and Cars 3) were profitable franchise installments. The next two on the slate (The Incredibles 2 and Toy Story 4) are sequels, too.

Happily, Coco is a visually dazzling new story steeped in the Mexican holiday Dia de los Muertos. Most of the adventure takes place in a mythical Land of the Dead, which will go down as one of Pixar’s most richly beautiful fantasy worlds.

Miguel is a twelve-year-old boy who dreams of being a musician. Alas, his family has forbidden music ever since great-grandpa abandoned the kids to pursue his muse. Through a series of painfully contrived plot points, Miguel travels to the Land of the Dead to secure the blessing of his ancestors and bring music back to the family. The setup is awfully rickety, and the movie never quite overcomes this fundamental weakness. The thematic dilemma of family versus art never rings true. It’s clear from the start that both can coexist just fine. People do it all the time. Besides, who stays mad at music?

Absent a solid story, Coco slips into predictable emotional swells, cheap gags, and Disney’s familiar conservative themes. This is technically a Pixar original, but it feels like another Disney franchise installment, skillfully manufactured, perfectly adequate, and kind of depressing.