The story of the fraud musician known as Ernesto de la Cruz from Coco.
BeginningsErnesto 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 Héctor, 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. Meanwhile, Imelda, never knowing about the incident or of Héctor's desire to return home, grew resentful towards him 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 leaned on a lever that caused a church bell to drop 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 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, 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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.