Ernesto de la Cruz is the main antagonist of Pixar's 19th full-length animated feature film, Coco. He is Héctor Rivera's former music partner and friend, Miguel's former idol and arch-nemesis, and a famous singer and musician who dazzled the audience with his good looks and his charm, and was a source of Mexican pride due to his handsome looks, strong morals, and his standing up for his fellow Mexicans.
After dying of being crushed by a giant bell mid-performance, he resides as a soul in the Land of the Dead. However, it was revealed that Ernesto murdered Héctor and stole all of his songs and compositions, and even kept all that in secret.
In the English version, he was voiced by Benjamin Bratt, who also played El Macho in Despicable Me 2 by Universal Pictures, Antonio Pope in Ride Along 2, and El Topo in Snitch. In the Spanish version, he is voiced by Marco Antonio Solís (also known as "El Buki") on his first villainous role.
"Security, take care of Miguel! He'll be.. extending his stay. (Miguel: WHAT?! But I'm your family!) And Héctor was my best friend. Success doesn't come for free, Miguel. You have to be willing to do whatever it takes to... seize your moment. I know you'll understand."
- Ernesto revealing his true colors.
At first glance, Ernesto presents himself as a charming, wise, sensible, and intelligent individual who encouraged others to follow their dreams no matter what, making him seem like a good role model to others (especially to Miguel). He also comes across as a very fun, friendly, approachable, and optimistic person, the sort who's the life of the party wherever he goes.
However, it all turns out to be a facade to hide his true nature: that of a selfish and overambitious person who wanted glory and fame for himself, even if it meant murdering his best friend Héctor in order to steal his song book. His afterlife as a spirit has also allowed him to strengthen his reputation, and he will go to malicious lengths to maintain it.
When angry beyond limits, he considered Miguel a liability and went to the extent of attempting to murder the boy to hide his secret. He showed no remorse, nor hesitation as he even taunted his former friend, Héctor, with a sarcastic apology. He was also cocky and egotistical enough to hide his secret in one of his films, which inevitably caused him to be exposed. When faced with his actions, he can be cowardly as shown when he was attacked by Héctor for killing him and being confronted by the other Riveras who learned the truth about Héctor's death.
After being exposed for his treachery, and losing everything, Ernesto was a silent individual who could only look on as he was condemned for his vile and flagitious actions before he was confronted by Pepita who exacted a poetic punishment which was throwing him around and letting him get crushed by a bell (a reference to his death).
Ernesto was born in 1896. He started out as a childhood friend and business partner of Héctor, as they both entered the music industry in 1921, wooing the people of Mexico for months. However, they got into an argument as Héctor promised to return to his wife Imelda and daughter Coco while Ernesto wanted to continue on with the business.
Though Hector assured Ernesto that the latter can manage on his own, Ernesto claims that he can't do so without Hector's songs. However, Hector remains firm on his decision to return to his family as Ernesto was angered by this refusal to comply. Pretending to support Héctor's decision of returning to his family, Ernesto said he was sending him off with a toast, to their friendship, saying that he would move 'heaven and earth' for Héctor. However, Ernesto secretly spiked Héctor's drink with poison, which took effect as they walked down the street.
Watching Héctor succumb to his death by the poison, Ernesto took the opportunity to steal Héctor's guitar and song book and pass off the songs as his own, gaining a reputation in the music industry and becoming one of Mexico's most acclaimed musicians, as well as a film star. Héctor's wife Imelda, never knowing about the incident nor Héctor's desire to return home, grew resentful towards Héctor and instigated a ban on music for the entire Rivera family while taking a hobby of making shoes as the main family business.
Eventually, during one of Ernesto's concerts while singing Héctor's famous song "Remember Me" in 1942, he was killed in an act of karma when a backstage hand accidentally pulled a lever that dropped a church bell onto him.
Despite his death, Ernesto left behind a legacy, which was honored by a large statue, and maintained his reputation as he continued to perform to the citizens of the Land of the Dead, supplied with his own mansion and a crew of security guards at his disposal.
The Day of the Dead
The film starts with Miguel (Héctor's great-great grandson) living in the ville "Santa Cecilia" with his family, including a very old Coco who is suffering from Alzeheimer's. Unlike the rest of the Riveras, Miguel loves music and, in secret, hopes to one day be as famous as Ernesto, whom he considered to be his hero and idol.
Upon learning about a talent show during the Day of the Dead, Miguel discovers from Imelda's portrait that his descendant has a guitar similar to the one that Ernesto's holding in a photo. Believing that Ernesto is his great-great grandfather, Miguel tries to explain his discovery to his family, but they refuse to believe this, with Miguel's grandma Elena destroying Miguel's guitar and forbidding him to play music again. Fed up with his family's hatred of music, Miguel angrily runs away from his family, deciding to perform the show himself.
However, he can't enter without an instrument, so he decides to take Ernesto's guitar inside his mausoleum and use it in the concert. In the moment Miguel struck the notes, he becomes a type of ghost, being unable to be seen or heard by the living except for a street dog named Dante, who is actually a disguised spirit animal. In the cemetery, Miguel meets his deceased relatives, who are shaken that Miguel has entered into the Land of the Dead.
Land of the Dead
As Miguel is taken to the Land of the Dead by, he meets Imelda, who is unable to cross to the world of the living as Miguel took her portrait from the ofrenda. They discover from an officer that Imelda can help Miguel return to the world of the living before he turns into an skeleton at sunrise.
By a relative's "blessing" with a glowing petal of Aztec marigold, Imelda agrees to let Miguel back home, but with the condition that he must give up his desire for music. Outraged by this, Miguel angrily refuses and runs away before allying with Héctor, who is currently a lonely and forgotten jokester trying to visit his family to no avail and being unaware of the true causes of his death. Forming a deal, Héctor offers to take Miguel to Ernesto in exchange of delivering Héctor's picture to his family's ofrenda so that he won't be forgotten. During their journey to Ernesto's mansion, Héctor, Miguel and Dante are being tracked down by Mama Imelda's spiritual guide (an alebrije called Pepita).
After participating on a contest to get an entrance to the mansion, an argument breaks between Miguel and Héctor after the latter discovers that the former could have returned to his home all the time (as Miguel had previously lied to Héctor by claiming that Ernesto was his only family). In response, an angry Miguel leaves Hector and Dante, determined to sneak to Ernesto's mansion on his own.
Miguel manages to enter the mansion with the help of a band (who were the winning participants of the contest) and looks for Ernesto while Héctor followed him disguised as the famed painter Frida Kahlo.
During the celebrations inside the mansion, Miguel gets Ernesto's attention by singing one of his favorite songs that he sung on television, though he ends up falling into the swimming pool by accident. However, Ernesto dives in and saves Miguel, who explains about his discoveries of his ancestry to Ernesto. Despite being aware that he had no known living relatives, Ernesto exploited the opportunity by taking it as a sign of joy and spending a quality time with Miguel to gain more support from the guests.
After the party is over, Ernesto stated that he had to make a decision in leaving everything behind to pursue his own dreams of becoming a musician and advises Miguel to do the same if he wishes. As Miguel explains his situation to Ernesto, the latter agrees to give him his blessing to send him back.
Just as Ernesto is about to give Miguel a petal of Aztec marigold to send him home, they were interrupted by an arriving Héctor, who confronts Miguel of leaving him behind and Ernesto for taking away his songs while leaving him forgotten by the world. A nervous Ernesto admits to Miguel that Héctor did write the songs, but claimed that he only sang them to keep Hector's memory alive ever since his death, though Héctor is not convinced by this. Nevertheless, Héctor pleads with Ernesto to let Miguel take his photo, reminding him of the time Ernesto said that he would move 'heaven and earth' for their friendship.
Miguel points out the similarities between Hector and Ernesto's argument with one of Ernesto's films where the villain attempts to kill him with a poisoned drink (in which Ernesto, who had written the film script, had used the moment of murdering Hector as inspiration to make the script). Catching on to the similarities after watching the film, Héctor thinks back to the night of his death and finally realizes the truth that Ernesto had deliberately murdered him in order to steal his songs and achieve the fame for himself.
Enraged by this revelation, Héctor angrily attacks Ernesto for his betrayal, but the latter calls in his security guards to take him into a large cenote pit where he can't escape. Finally being aware of Héctor's former occupation as Ernesto's partner in the music industry, Miguel wonders if all of it was true or not, though he denies this to Ernesto. However, being unwilling to trust Miguel as he knows too much, Ernesto revealed his true colors by crumbling the petal and taking away Héctor's photo before ordering his guards to imprison Miguel in the pit, admitting that he had to murder Héctor to seize his moment in becoming a famous musician. This made a horrified Miguel realize what a murderous fraud that Ernesto really is.
In the pit, Héctor begins to fade as his daughter Coco is starting to forget him due to her deteriorating mental state, which made Miguel realize that Héctor, not Ernesto, is his real great-great grandfather. Eventually, they are rescued by Imelda and Pepita, who were guided by Dante to them. Miguel then explains the events to his deceased relatives and that Ernesto was responsible for murdering Héctor and stealing his songs in the first place. With that in mind, Imelda and the others agree to help Héctor and Miguel recover the stolen photo and expose Ernesto's true colors.
During Ernesto's sunrise show at a stadium, Miguel and his deceased relatives sneak in (with the help of the real Frida Kahlo) to recover Héctor's photo. However, they run into Ernesto by accident, where Imelda angrily slaps Ernesto twice for murdering Héctor and trying to murder Miguel. He is shocked that Miguel and Héctor are related, just as the deceased Rivera relatives then chase Ernesto, who calls his security staff to detain them, forcing the relatives to fight back while Imelda accidentally ends up on stage after recovering Héctor's photo from Ernesto. Spotting Imelda on stage, Ernesto angrily orders his guards to stop her and steal back the photo.
At first, Imelda is reluctant to perform, but Miguel encourages her to sing as Héctor plays the guitar. Imelda starts singing "La Llorona" while evading the security guards, which surprises her dead relatives and woos the entire audience, much to Ernesto's anger. Deciding to handle things in person, Ernesto comes in stage singing and tries to take the photo while trying to make everything seem as part of the show, though Imelda frees herself from Ernesto and gives Miguel the photo and her blessing.
However, just as Miguel can touch the petal, Ernesto angrily grabs him and the photo, ranting out that he won't let him go back because it would ruin his legacy as a great musician. Miguel angrily refutes this by stating that Héctor is the real musician and that Ernesto is a coward who murdered him for his songs, but Ernesto doesn't care by saying that he'll do whatever it takes to achieve more fame and glory. Without hesitation, Ernesto drops Miguel and the photo into the lake before taunting Héctor with a fake apology, telling him that the show must go on.
Though it would've seemed that Ernesto prevailed as he returns to continue his performance for the concert attendees, he is unaware that several of Miguel's relatives secretly recorded his confession with a camera. This leaves the horrified audience to realize his true colors and eventually turn against him by jeering and condemning him for his actions; even the horrified composer splits his composing stick in two out of disgust against Ernesto's actions.
Just as the confused Ernesto is being pelted with produce by the angry audience, he realizes his crime was recorded on camera and witnesses Pepita saving Miguel on screen while Héctor's photo sinks into the lake. Pepita then arrives on stage to confront a nervous Ernesto for what he did by lifting him up before throwing him away from the stadium. Ernesto then falls onto a bell tower and watches in horror as the bell falls and crushes him once again (mimicking his original death), much to the audience's delight.
After gaining the blessing and returning to the world of the living, Miguel uses Héctor's guitar to help Coco remember him by singing "Remember Me". Coco also revealed that she kept Héctor's old letters detailing his lyrics and the ripped piece of Imelda's portrait detailing Héctor's face, allowing the Rivera family to finally learn the truth about what happened to Héctor. With that in mind, the Rivera family agreed to abandon their ban on music and proceeded to expose Ernesto as the fraud he was by using the photo and the letters, as evidence of their findings. This leaves Héctor to replace Ernesto as the village's new idol and hero. Even a "FORGET YOU" ("OLVIDADO" in Spanish) sign was put on Ernesto's old tomb as the villagers now consider him a disgrace for his heinous actions against the Rivera family, therefore, leaving the tomb to decay in a permanent state.
It is possible that Ernesto still exists in the Land of the Dead since he was already dead, but his crime would forever make him rejected by both the living and the dead and he would be remembered as a murderer, thief, and a fraud.
"You want to give up now when we're this close to reaching our dream?! (Héctor: This was your dream. You'll manage.) I can't do this without your songs, Héctor! (Héctor: I'm going home, Ernesto! Hate me if you want, but my mind is made up.)"
- Ernesto arguing with Héctor over the latter's decision to leave the music industry.
"Oh, I could never hate you. If you must go.... I'm sending you off with a toast. To our friendship.... I would move heaven and earth for you, mi amigo. Salud!"
- Ernesto pretending to support Héctor of his decision to leave while secretly giving him a poisoned drink.
"Are you all right, niño(boy)? (gasps) It's you! You are that boy, the one who came from the Land of the Living! (Miguel: You.. you know about me?) You are anyone that has been talking about! Why have you come here? (Miguel: I'm Miguel... your great-great grandson.) I have a great-great grandson?!"
- Ernesto meeting Miguel after saving him from drowning in the mansion pool.
"My boy... with a talent like yours.... how could I not listen?"
- Ernesto commending Miguel's musical skills.
"It has been an honor. I am very sorry to see you go, Miguel. I hope you die very soon. (Miguel is a little disturbed) You know what I mean."
- Ernesto about to send Miguel back with a marigold Aztec petal until the arrival of Héctor.
"My friend.... you're.... being forgotten. (Héctor: And whose fault is that?!) Héctor, please! (Héctor: Those were MY songs you took! My songs that made you famous!) (Miguel: What?) (Héctor: If I'm being forgotten, it's because that YOU never told anyone that I wrote them!) (Miguel: That's crazy! De la Cruz wrote all his own songs.) (Héctor: You wanna tell him or should I?) Héctor, I never meant to take credit. We made a great team, but you died. And I..... I only sang your songs because... I wanted to keep a part of you alive. (Héctor: Oh, how generous!)"
- Ernesto trying to justify his actions of stealing Héctor's songs after being confronted by an angry Héctor."(Héctor: Miguel can put my photo up. And I can cross over the bridge. I could see my girl. Ernesto. Remember the night I left?) That… was a long time ago. (Héctor: We drank together. And you told me you would move heaven and earth for your amigo.)"
- Ernesto after being reminded of the day Héctor tried to leave for his family.
"(Héctor: You… poisoned me.) You're confusing movies with reality, Héctor."
- Ernesto trying to dissuade Héctor from learning the truth about the latter's death to no avail.
"Security, security! (Héctor: YOU TOOK EVERYTHING AWAY FROM ME, YOU RAT!!) Have him taken care of. He's.... not feeling well. (Héctor: I just wanted to go back home! NO!!)"
- Ernesto ordering his security guards to imprison Héctor in the cenote pit after the latter realized the true reasons behind his death.
"Grandson?! (Miguel: She's talking about me!) YOU!! Wait.. you're related to... Héctor?!"
- Ernesto learning that Miguel is the real great-great grandson of Héctor before being confronted by the Rivera relatives for murdering Héctor and stealing his photo.
"SECURITY, AYUDAME (HELP ME)!!"
- Ernesto calling his security guards to stop the Rivera family from reclaiming Héctor's photo.
"Get her off the stage!"
- Ernesto ordering his security guards to stop Imelda and steal back Héctor's photo during the sunrise show.
"YOU'RE NOT GOING ANYWHERE!! (shoves Imelda away while dragging Miguel) (Héctor: Imelda!) Stay back, stay back! All of you! STAY BACK!! NOT one more step!"
- Ernesto stopping the Rivera family from sending Miguel back to the Land of the Living with Héctor's photo.
"I worked too hard, Héctor... too hard to let him destroy everything! (Héctor: He's a living child, Ernesto!) He's a THREAT!! You think I'd let him go back to the Land of the Living with your photo?! To keep your memory ALIVE?! No! (Miguel: You're a coward!) I am Ernesto de la Cruz, the greatest musician of ALL TIME!! (Miguel: Héctor's the real musician! You're just the guy who murdered him and stole his songs!) I am the one who's willing to do what it takes to seize MY MOMENT... whatever it takes!"
- Ernesto ranting out against Héctor and Miguel before dropping the latter into the lake, the very same speech that revealed his true nature to the audience.
"Apologies, old friend, but the show must go on."
- Ernesto taunting Héctor after dropping Miguel and Hector's photo into the lake.
"(laughs nervously) Please… mi familia (my family)! (Male Attendee: MURDERER!!) (Female Attendee: GET OFF THE STAGE!!) Orchestra, a-1, a-2, a-1… (the conductor breaks his baton in disgust) Remember me… though I have to- (a tomato is thrown into his jacket) HEY!!"
- Ernesto being jeered by the audience for his heinous actions against the Rivera family.
"Nice kitty. (Pepita roars and grabs him by the waist) Put me down! NO, PLEASE!! I'm begging you! Stop, stop! Ow, ow! NOOOOO!!! (seeing the giant bell as he is about to crash into) NOOOOO!!!!"
- Ernesto's last words before he got crushed by the giant bell, echoing his original death.
- Ernesto is the fifth main antagonist in a Pixar film to actually die at the end of his film, after Hopper from A Bug's Life, Syndrome from The Incredibles, Charles Muntz from Up, and Mor'du from Brave. Though in Ernesto's case, he actually dies twice, in both the human realm and in the Día de los Muertos realm (although, since skeletons in after-life are shown to have great regeneration capabilities, his "death" in the after-life might be regarded as unconfirmed, and might have merely been symbolic for his defeat. In the world of the living a year later he is shown to be discredited, but this is not the same as being forgotten, meaning he might have survived in the world of the dead).
- Ernesto de la Cruz is a tribute to the singer/actors of the Golden Age of Mexican Cinema like Jorge Negrete, Pedro Infante, Jorge Solis and many others.
- However, Ernesto de la Cruz is actually physically based on the beloved Mexican icon Pedro Infante (in fact, the second last name of Infante was "Cruz").
- Ernesto is one of the few main antagonist of a Pixar film who wasn't revealed to be evil at first.
- Ernesto de la Cruz is voiced in the Spanish version by an actual Mexican singer and actor, Marco Antonio Solís a well-known songwriter and singer, also known as "El Buki".