- Ernesto: "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!"
- Ernesto: "I am the one who is willing to do what it takes to seize my moment...whatever it takes."
- ―Miguel and de la Cruz arguing
Ernesto de la Cruz is the main antagonist of the Disney/Pixar film, Coco. He was a famous singer and musician who dazzled audiences with his good looks and his charm and was a source of Mexican pride. After his death, he resides as a soul in the Land of the Dead. Miguel's quest in the movie is to find Ernesto, whom he believes is his great-great-grandfather, in the Land of the Dead. However, Miguel discovers a very different truth to what he expected.
- “He started out a total nobody from Santa Cecilia, like me. But when he played music, he made people fall in love with him. He starred in movies. He had the coolest guitar. He could fly! And he wrote the best songs!”
- ―Miguel, about de la Cruz
Born in 1896, Ernesto was an up-and-coming musician from the town of Santa Cecilia. He started his musical career as a guitarist with his childhood friend Héctor as his songwriter. As the two were on tour across Mexico however, Héctor felt remorse about leaving his wife and daughter behind and intended to quit his career to go back to them. Ernesto tried to convince him to change his mind, and when his attempts failed, Ernesto seemingly accepted Héctor's decision and shared a toast of tequila with him as he would move "heaven and earth" for Héctor. Unbeknownst to Héctor, however, Ernesto had poisoned the drink - as the two walked down the street, Héctor succumbed to the poison and died. Seizing the opportunity, Ernesto took his songbook and guitar as his own. With Héctor's songs, Ernesto became a musical legend across the country and a star of renowned films. Winning crowds with his noble appearance, Ernesto was revered as a symbol of Mexico's passion and pride, all the while leaving no-one the wiser of the true circumstances of his fame.
In 1942, Ernesto performed the song "Remember Me" at a concert among millions of his fans. As he finished the song on a high note, the backstage hand was distracted and accidentally pulled the lever for the stage's bell; Ernesto, being right under the bell at the moment, was crushed by it and killed instantly. His body was laid to rest in a tomb back in Santa Cecilia, while his spirit was sent to the Land of the Dead. Ernesto's memory carried on in the public, thus he has retained his reputation in the Land of the Dead, regularly performing to the dead citizens and living out his days in his massive underworld mansion with his arsenal of security guards at his disposal.
- Ernesto de la Cruz is Miguel's idol and the most famous musician in the history of Mexico. Revered by fans worldwide until his untimely death, the charming and charismatic musician is even more beloved in the Land of the Dead.
At first glance, Ernesto presents himself as a charming, suave, wise, and sensible individual who encouraged others to follow their dreams no matter what, making him seem like a good role model.
However, it is later revealed that Ernesto was actually selfish and desperate in life to the point of being a rank opportunist whose ambition drove him to murder his best friend Héctor, and stole his songbook and guitar to achieve fame, fortune, credit, and glory. He was even cocky enough to hide this secret in one of his films. His afterlife as a spirit has not only maintained but strengthened his reputation, and he will go to malicious lengths to keep it that way. Even Miguel, the boy who looked up to him as his idol, was seen as a liability in his eyes to the extent that Ernesto would resort to murdering the child to hide his secret, with no remorse whatsoever for such a heinous act.
When his actions were revealed to his former fans, Ernesto was silent and distraught to see he had lost everything that he worked hard for as he was condemned for his vile nature.
Ernesto was also, in contrast to his suave and debonair exterior, a filthy coward. This was shown numerous times when he fled from the angry Rivera family upon being confronted and when Pepita confronted and attacked him for his vile actions against her family, Ernesto was left pathetically screaming and begging the alebrije to release him.
Role in the film
Ernesto de la Cruz first appears at his mansion in the Land of the Dead. During the Day of the Dead, he is hosting a party exclusive to Mexico's high-class celebrities. Miguel tries to get his attention by singing an improvised song. Suddenly, he falls into a pool before finishing it, prompting Ernesto to dive into it to rescue him. Upon reaching the surface, Ernesto discovers he is the human boy he had been hearing about. Miguel declares himself as de la Cruz's great-great-grandson. Ernesto is elated and the two of them start bonding.
After the party settles down, Miguel asks Ernesto how he felt about leaving his family behind; hesitating, Ernesto answers that he had to make the decision to pursue his own dreams of becoming a musician, and suggests Miguel do the same if he desires. Miguel explains that he needs Ernesto's blessing to return to the Land of the Living. Ernesto agrees, but before he can bless the marigold petal, a bitter Héctor shows up. Héctor reveals to Miguel that he wrote the songs Ernesto was famous for and accuses Ernesto of leaving Héctor to be forgotten. Ernesto tries to be civil until Héctor reminds Ernesto that he would have moved "heaven and earth" for him. It is then that Miguel notices the similarity of that statement with a quote uttered in one of Ernesto’s films, where the film's villain said the same thing while poisoning Ernesto's character. Looking at the film, Héctor realizes his partner caused his death by poisoning him. Enraged, Héctor tries to attack Ernesto, but he is thrown into a cenote pit by Ernesto's guards. To test Miguel's loyalty, Ernesto asks Miguel if he believes Héctor's story. Miguel denies it, but Ernesto sees that Miguel does. He crumbles the marigold petal and has Miguel thrown in the cenote as he confiscates Héctor's photograph from the boy. While being taken away by Ernesto's guards, Miguel protests they are family to which Ernesto coldly notes that Héctor was his best friend; his callous words allow Miguel to see Héctor was telling the truth and Ernesto reminds Miguel that he needed to do whatever it took to achieve glory, or, in his own words, "seize his moment", before leaving.
In the cenote, Miguel and Héctor discover the truth about their heritage and are later rescued by the other Riveras. Together, Miguel, Héctor, and the rest of the Riveras sneak into the backstage of the Sunrise Spectacular concert to get Héctor's photo back. When they run into Ernesto, Imelda slaps him with her shoe twice, one for murdering the love of her life and the other for trying to murder her great-great-grandson. Undaunted, Ernesto and his security fight against the relatives for the photo, which soon ends up with Imelda. During that time, Imelda is accidentally put on stage where she sings a duet with Ernesto while simultaneously trying to get Héctor's photograph from him. She succeeds, but Ernesto catches up to them later and grabs Miguel. Héctor pleads with Ernesto to let them send Miguel home, as he is a living boy. Ernesto refuses on the grounds that he's a threat while the other Riveras covertly turn the cameras on him. Miguel angrily calls Ernesto a coward by stating that Héctor is the real musician while Ernesto is a thief and a murderer as the audience are shocked by this. Ernesto viciously defends his actions by roaring that he will do anything for fame, as he repeats his statement and throws Miguel from the building, horrifying the audience. Satisfied, Ernesto returns to the stage and passes by a weakened Héctor, sarcastically apologizing for what he just did with a smile.
Unaware that he was caught in the act, Ernesto faces his audience only to be met with scowls and jeers from the crowd. Confused, Ernesto tries to get the orchestra to start playing. However, they refuse to do anything other than glare at him in disgust and the conductor even snaps his baton in two without a second thought. Ernesto tries to sing "Remember Me", but the crowd boos and throws fruit at him. Confused at this reception, Ernesto soon sees the monitors have exposed his crimes to the entire Land of the Dead to his great shock. He also sees that Imelda's spirit guide Pepita has saved Miguel before leaving to confront Ernesto for his actions against the family. Attempting to escape, Ernesto begs her not to hurt him, but he is caught by the alebrije and thrown into a bell tower, where he smacks face-first into the great iron bell with a resounding clang. While recovering, the bell falls and crushes a horrified Ernesto once again, stopping him for good.
When Miguel gets sent back to the Land of the Living, he reveals the truth about Héctor and exposes de la Cruz's wrongdoings to his family, who in turn expose them to everyone else. By the next Day of the Dead, Héctor is credited as the authentic musician by Santa Cecilia while Ernesto's statue is publicly defaced, the only addition to Ernesto's shrine a sign that reads "FORGET YOU" on it and his mausoleum fallen into permanent disrepair.
- Ernesto is designed after famous Mexican actors and singers from the Golden Age of Mexican Cinema, in particular, Jorge Negrete.
- At his party, Ernesto is seen interacting with Negrete and Pedro Infante (two of his inspirations).
- The name "de la Cruz" translates to "of the Cross." Ironically, the international versions of the film have translated the derogatory message of the sign hanging over Ernesto's bust as a big X letter.
- The message of the sign (FORGET YOU) hung over Ernesto's bust at the film's ending was altered in two versions. In the Spanish versions, it is translated as OLVIDADO and the international versions have simplified the message with a big X letter.
- With the exception of "Remember Me" (which was sung by his original voice actor), Ernesto's singing voice is provided by a different actor, Antonio Sol.
- There are a few easy-to miss hints that foreshadow Ernesto's true colors:
- In the Rivera family portrait, although Miguel's great-great-grandfather 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 is not the great-great-grandfather.
- Ernesto is genuinely shocked upon realizing he has a great-great-grandson. While this, at first, can be seen as Ernesto not caring to see his family, it can also mean Ernesto is 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.
- While rescuing Miguel from drowning, Ernesto pushes Miguel's guitar out of the way before returning him to the surface. While this appears to show that he cares for the safety of his fans first, it also foreshadows how he cares little for music and more for his reputation.
- When he learned of Miguel's predicament, he calmly reacted with a casual indifference to Miguel's potential fate. He also said "I hope you die very soon", which was a sign of his disregard for life.
- 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.
- Thus, he is unique among Disney/Pixar villains in that he died before the events of the film rather than at the end or not at all, and is thus dead (though very much active) during his antagonistic role.
- This also fits in with the Disney tradition of giving villains a fitting fate; all that mattered to Ernesto was fame and the adoration that came with it. He is now stuck in a permanent existence, unable to cross over to the Land of the Living and denied the 'Final Death' as people insist on remembering his vile actions.
- This was originally explored in the deleted scene "Cross The Bridge" where Ernesto was in hot pursuit of Miguel at the decaying Marigold Bridge where they would have a final showdown during sunrise once Dia de los Muertos ended after the countdown. Ernesto ended up getting the 'Final Death' as he was about to throw Miguel off the bridge.
- Taking into account the years in which they were born, Ernesto is four years older than Héctor. He was about 46 years old when he died, outliving Héctor by 21 years--the same span of time Héctor was alive.
- Ernesto's downfall is shared with fellow Pixar villain Henry J. Waternoose from Monsters, Inc., as both had their true motives caught on camera and lost their respect from the public. However, Waternoose had more firm reasons for his actions and ultimately went mad in order to save his company, while Ernesto took out Héctor's life for selfish and unjustified reasons.
- In the deleted scene "Family Fix", Ernesto snatches Héctor's guitar from Miguel (then known as "Marco" during development) and breaks it (which ended up breaking the curse on Miguel) right in front of the audience and the Riveras at the main stage. At this point, he is reviled by the dead and is given a final boot by Imelda.
- ↑ 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Unkrich, L.; Molina, Ad.; Lasseter, J. (October 10, 2017). The Art of Coco. Chronicle Books, page 46.
- ↑ 2.0 2.1 Unkrich, Lee (December 3, 2017). "1896 (reply to @Aleprettycat Dear @leeunkrich , when was Ernesto de la Cruz born?". (Tweet) Twitter.
- ↑ Lema, Michelle (June 6, 2017). "Meet the Characters and Voice Cast of Disney Pixar's Coco and See the Beautiful New Poster". Oh My Disney. Disney. Retrieved on June 6, 2017.
- ↑ Unkrich, Lee (December 16, 2017). "No. (reply to @emilykranking Question without being too spoiler-ly: When *beep* gets crushed again, is he dead permanently?)". (Tweet) Twitter.
- ↑ Unkrich, Lee (December 10, 2017). "Permanently disgraced. (reply to @An_EqualSociety Question about Ernesto's fate: Hi Lee. A question. In Coco, Ernesto was ultimately killed when he was crushed by the giant bell in the Día de Muertos Realm? He was technically dead, and after being exposed as a fraud, he would still be remembered for his movies and for his story for stealing Héctor's songs?)". (Tweet) Twitter.