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Villain Overview
I have to sing! I have to play! The music, it's not just in me, it IS me!
~ Ernesto in one of his films.


Seize your moment/Vive tu momento.
~ Ernesto's famous quote, also foreshadowing his true colors.


Ernesto de la Cruz is the main antagonist of Pixar's 19th full-length animated feature film Coco. He is Héctor Rivera's former childhood friend and music partner, Miguel's former idol and arch nemesis, the Riveras' most hated enemy 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 to gain fame and fortune.

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 was voiced by Marco Antonio Solís (also known as "El Buki") on his first villainous role.

Biography

Beginnings

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Ernesto fumes at Hector's decision to return home to his family, foreshadowing his true nature.

Ernesto was born in 1896. He started out as a childhood friend and business partner of Héctor Rivera, as they both entered the music industry in 1921, wooing the people of Mexico for months. However, they got into an argument as Héctor decided to return to his wife Imelda and daughter Coco while Ernesto wanted to continue on with the business.

Though Héctor assured Ernesto that the latter can manage on his own, Ernesto desperately claims that he can't do so without Hector's songs. However, Hector remains firm in his decision to go back to his family as Ernesto was angered by this refusal. Pretending to support Héctor's decision of returning to his family by saying that he would move 'heaven and earth' for him, Ernesto secretly spiked Héctor's drink with poison, which took effect as they walked down the street towards the train station.

Watching Héctor succumb to his death by the poison, Ernesto took the opportunity to steal Héctor's guitar and songbook 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 and writer. Meanwhile, Imelda, never knowing about the incident or of Héctor's desire to return home, grew resentful towards him for abandoning his family and thus instigated a ban on music for the entire Rivera family, while taking a hobby of making shoes as the main family business.

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Ernesto being crushed to his death by a church bell during the performance.

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 leaned on a lever that caused a church bell to drop onto him. Despite his death, Ernesto's legacy lived on, which was honored by a large statue. He also 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

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The Ernesto de la Cruz statue in Santa Cecilia.

The film starts with Miguel living in the ville "Santa Cecilia" with his family, including a very old Coco who is suffering from Alzheimer'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 grandmother Elena destroying Miguel's guitar to prevent him from following the path of his ancestor. Fed up with his family's views on music, Miguel angrily runs away, deciding to perform himself.

However, Miguel finds he can't enter without an instrument, so he decides to take Ernesto's guitar from 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

When Miguel is taken to the Land of the Dead, 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 what 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 gives up his musical desires. Outraged with this, Miguel angrily refuses and runs away before allying with Héctor, who is currently a lonely and forgotten trickster 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 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 around). In response, an angry Miguel leaves Hector and dismisses Dante, determined more than ever to get to Ernesto's mansion on his own. He even accuses a pursuing Imelda of ruining his life by taking music, which brings him joy, away, an act that leaves Imelda guilt-ridden and heartbroken.

Meeting Miguel

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.

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Ernesto being hugged by Miguel in which he revealed that Ernesto was Miguel's ancestor.

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.

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Ernesto giving Miguel a tour around the mansion while having a warm conversation with Miguel in which the latter detailed his own dreams of becoming a musician.

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.

True Colors

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"Hector, 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."

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.

Upon hearing this, 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 in horror that Ernesto had deliberately poisoned him in order to steal his songs and achieve the fame for himself.

Ernesto True Colors

"I know you'll understand." ~ Ernesto revealing his true nature to Miguel after admitting his murder of Hector.

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 pocketing away Héctor's photo while 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 is really his great-great grandfather, not Ernesto. Eventually, they are rescued by Imelda and Pepita, who were guided by Dante to them. Reconciling, Miguel then explains the events to his deceased relatives and that Ernesto was responsible for Héctor not returning in the first place. With this shocking revelation, Imelda and the others agree to help Héctor and Miguel recover the stolen photo and expose Ernesto's true colors.

Final Showdown

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Ernesto being confronted by the rest of the deceased Rivera relatives for his actions.

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 from Ernesto before Coco forgets him. They run into Ernesto by convenience, where Imelda angrily slaps Ernesto twice for being the cause of her family's grief. He is shocked that Miguel and Héctor are related, just as the deceased Rivera relatives chase him down the stadium. Ernesto 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.
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Ernesto joining Imelda in song to avoid trouble with the audience.

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 by stepping on his foot and gives Miguel the photo and her blessing.

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"… Whatever it takes." ~ Ernesto making a death glare at Miguel before throwing him off to his death.

However, just as Miguel can touch the petal, Ernesto angrily grabs him, ranting out that he won't let him go back with the photo because it would ruin his legacy as a great musician. Miguel angrily refutes this by stating that Ernesto is a cowardly fraud who murdered Héctor (the real musician) for his songs, but Ernesto doesn't care by saying that he'll do whatever it takes to achieve fame and glory. Without hesitation, Ernesto drops Miguel, much to the horror of the Riveras. Ernesto then leaves for the stage while taunting his old friend with a sarcastic apology, telling him that the show must go on.

Defeat

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Ernesto left in silence when he realized his crimes have been exposed.

Though it would've seemed that Ernesto had won, as he returns to continue his performance for the concert attendees, he is unaware that a couple of Miguel's great-aunts secretly recorded his confession with a camera. This leaves the outraged audience to realize his true colors and eventually turn against him by jeering and condemning him for his selfishness and murder. Even the conductor splits his baton in two out of disgust for Ernesto's actions.

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Ernesto's defeat after getting crushed by the falling bell, echoing his original death.

Just as the confused Ernesto is being pelted with produce by the angry audience, he witnesses Pepita saving Miguel on the monitors, making him realize that his crimes have been exposed to the entire public. Pepita then arrives on stage to confront a nervous Ernesto for all the grief and turmoil the Rivera family had from his actions by lifting him up before throwing him from the stadium. Ernesto then falls onto a bell tower and watches helplessly as the bell falls and crushes him once again after he smashed into it (mimicking his original death), much to the audience's delight.

Forget You

Ernesto's tomb with a "Forget You" sign placed in front as the public now condemns him for his crimes against the Rivera family, tarnishing Ernesto's legacy permanently.

After receiving the blessing and returning home, Miguel uses Héctor's guitar to help Coco remember him by singing "Remember Me". Coco also reveals that she kept Héctor's old letters detailing his song 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 all those years ago. Realizing their wrong opinion of their ancestor, the Rivera family agreed to abandon the rules against 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 musical figure; with 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 on 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 crimes would forever make him rejected by both the living and the dead and he would be remembered as a murderer, a thief, and a fraud.

Quotes

You're giving 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 to, 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… then 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.


Perhaps it was that chorizo, my friend.
~ Ernesto trying to comfort Héctor as the latter is succumbing to the poison on the street, right before Héctor dies.


Are you all right, niño? (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.


All of this came from my amazing fans in the Land of the Living. They leave me more offerings than I know what to do with. Hey, what's wrong? Is it too much? You look overwhelmed. (Miguel: N-No. It's al great.) But... (Miguel: It's just... I've been looking up to you my whole life. You're the guy who actually did it. But did you ever regret it? Choosing music over everything else?) It was hard saying goodbye to my hometown. Heading off on my own. (Miguel: Even your family?) Si. But I could not have done it differently. One cannot deny who one is meant to be. And you, my great-great-grandson, are meant to be a musician. You and I, we are artists, Miguel. We cannot belong to one family. The world is our family! (Sees the fireworks and becomes excited) Ooh-ooh! Ooh! The fireworks have begun!
~ Ernesto's conversation with Miguel after the party.


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 Héctor arrives.


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 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: Look, I don't want to fight about it, I just want you to make it right: 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. Well, I'm asking you to now.)
~ 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 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.


I apologize. Where were we? (Miguel: You were going to give me your blessing.) Yes. Uh, sí. Miguel, my reputation, it is very important to me. I would hate to have you think that-(Miguel: That you murdered Héctor for his songs?) You don’t think that, do you? (Miguel: I—- No. Everyone knows you’re the good guy.)
~ Ernesto asking Miguel if he believes Héctor’s story, to which the latter denies.


Yes? Don't I know you? (Imelda slaps him with her boot) (Imelda: That's for murdering the love of my life!) Who?! Who the- (Héctor: She's talking about ME!! I'm the love of your life?) (Imelda: I don't know, I'm still angry at you.) Héctor?! How did you- (gets slapped again)(Imelda: And that's for trying to murder my grandson!) 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!!
~ Ernesto calling his security guards to stop the Rivera family from reclaiming Héctor's photograph.


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.


Trivia

  • Despite getting crushed a second time, Ernesto is not permanently dead due to already being dead, as Lee Unkrich confirmed. Furthermore, although he was apparently forgotten for a year before the film's epilogue, Unkrich has also confirmed that Ernesto is still remembered for his movies and his story as the one who stole Héctor's guitar and his songs and murdered him, albeit permanently disgraced.
  • Ernesto de la Cruz is a tribute to the singer/actors of the Golden Age of Mexican Cinema like Jorge Negrete, Pedro Infante, Javier 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 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".
  • In a deleted scene, Ernesto chased down Miguel to the flower bridge after being exposed. When stepping on the pedals, Ernesto fell and dissolved through the pedals. This scene was cut out to make Ernesto's death seem less tragic.
  • When Hector was about to leave Ernesto, Ernesto immediately offered a drink that had a poison which kills Hector. However, there was no preparation of Ernesto poisoning the alcohol shown. This indicates that the alcohol had already been poisoned prior to the main story of the movie and Ernesto might've planned to ultimately kill Hector in the long run. Because Hector was about to leave Ernesto earlier than he anticipated, Ernesto had to carry out his scheme earlier than planned.
  • There are a few easy-to miss hints that foreshadow Ernesto's true colors and that he's not the missing great-great-grandfather:
    • In the Rivera family portrait, although Imelda's husband wore an outfit similar to Ernesto's, the belt buckle had two guitars on it. Ernesto's belt buckle does not have this emblem, hinting he's not the man in the photo.
    • Frida Kahlo states Ernesto mostly hosts fancy parties instead of attending his rehearsals, hinting how little he cares about music and more about popularity.
    • Ernesto is genuinely shocked upon realizing he has a great-great-grandson. This implies Ernesto never married or had an illegitimate child, which if the latter is true, it would shatter his reputation due to Mexicans having very strict thoughts about children born out of wedlock.
    • Héctor states that Ernesto wasn't very talented. This is proven when the latter states in the flashback he can't succeed without Héctor's songs. This slowly reveals he stole them.
    • During the confrontation between Ernesto, Héctor, and Miguel (moments before his true colors are shown), the room is in a dark and shadowy lighting with eerie music slowly coming in.

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