- Ernesto: "Security? Take care of Miguel. He'll be extending his stay."
- Miguel: "What?! But I'm your family!"
- Ernesto: "And Héctor was my best friend. Success doesn't come for free, Miguel. You have to be willing to do what it takes to... seize your moment. I know you understand."
- ―Ernesto revealing his true nature to Miguel after admitting his murder of Héctor.
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 untimely death, his soul resides in the Land of the Dead. Trapped in this extraordinary realm, Miguel goes on a quest to find Ernesto, whom he believes is his long-lost great-great-grandfather. However, Miguel uncovers a very different story to his heritage than 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 his friend. Unbeknownst to Héctor, however, Ernesto had poisoned the drink - as the two walked down the street towards the train station, Héctor succumbed to the poison and died. Taking 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 for the dead citizens (particularly, putting on a Sunrise Spectacular at the end Dia de los Muertos) and living out his afterlife in his massive mansion, throwing parties and with an 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.
In earlier drafts of the film, Ernesto de la Cruz was intended to be a full-fledged villain similarly to Hopper and Chick Hicks. He was originally born in 1885 and and was originally crushed to death during his performance of "Remember Me" in 1953. After the original idea was screened, it was scrapped and Ernesto was redesigned to appear as a less villainous figure - he was given a grandfatherly appearance and charming personality to make his true nature more unsuspecting.
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 positive role model to many individuals in the living world.
However, it is later revealed that Ernesto was actually selfish and desperate in life to the point of being a rank opportunist. His ambition drove him to murdering his best friend Héctor, who wanted to return home to his family, and subsequently steal his songbook and guitar to achieve fame and glory. He was even arrogant enough to hide this secret in one of his films, which led to his exposure and eventual downfall.
Leaving behind a profound legacy after his death, Ernesto was determined to maintain this, and was willing to go to malicious lengths (his murders even more darker after he died) to keep his image alive. Even Miguel, a boy who greatly idolized him and supposedly his own blood, was seen as a liability to the extent that he would resort to murdering the child to hide his secret, with no remorse whatsoever for his heinous acts; staring coldly after Miguel when he sent him falling to his death and gave the helpless Héctor (Miguel's true ancestor) a cruel apology.
While Miguel, Héctor, and Imelda had great passions for music and (despite their flaws from them) stronger values in family, de la Cruz had none of these qualities; only using music to gain popularity and willing to kill or use those he had close relationships with to get it. As such, he is a dark parallel to Héctor and of what Miguel might have become if he had followed Ernesto's path.
When his actions were revealed and his former fans turned on him, Ernesto could only be silently distraught to realize he had lost everything he worked for as he was condemned for his vile nature.
Ernesto was also, in contrast to his suave appearance and daring movie roles, a filthy coward. This was shown when Héctor, despite their differing skeletal structures and his declining condition, furiously attacked him after realizing Ernesto's hand in his death and later fleeing confrontation with an angered Rivera family, calling his security guards for these instances. Also, when Pepita confronts him for the crimes he committed against the family, Ernesto was left pathetically screaming and begging the alebrije to release him unharmed.
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 overjoyed at this revelation, and tours Miguel around his residence, bragging about him to his friends.
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 he wrote the songs Ernesto was famous for and accuses Ernesto of leaving Héctor to be forgotten. Ernesto tries to be civil as Héctor tries to get the two to help him cross the bridge before he's forgotten. When he reminds Ernesto that the latter stated he would move "heaven and earth" for him, Miguel calls out 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 recalls his last living moments and realizes his partner caused his death by poisoning him and stealing his songs. Enraged, Héctor attacks Ernesto for his betrayal, 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 enough of the doubt oozes into his voice to alert Ernesto to the fact that he 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 their relation and are rescued by the deceased Riveras, Dante, and Pepita and reveal the truth of Héctor's departure. Together, they sneak backstage of the Sunrise Spectacular concert to get Héctor's photo back before Coco forgets him in the Land of the Living. When they conveniently run into Ernesto, he faintly recognizes Imelda who slaps him with her shoe, the first hit for murdering her love and a second one for trying the same with her descendant, the latter shocking him. Ernesto cowardly flees and calls on his security to deal with the family after 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 an infuriated Ernesto catches up to them later and grabs Miguel before he can be sent back to the living and pushes a protective Imelda to the ground. He drags Miguel while using him as a shield against the Riveras.
Héctor pleads with him to let Miguel go home, but Ernesto refuses to let the boy tarnish his legacy. His former friend exclaims his grandson is a living child, only to be rebuffed that he's a threat while Miguel's great-aunts covertly turn the cameras on him which broadcast the events to the audience. Miguel angrily calls him a coward with Ernesto declaring he is the greatest musician of all time. Miguel rebukes this by stating Héctor is the real musician while Ernesto is just his murderer who took the credit after stealing his songs as the audience are shocked by this revelation. Ernesto viciously defends his actions by ranting he'll do whatever it takes to seize his moment, repeating this statement before throwing Miguel from the building, much to the horror of the audience and the boy's family. Satisfied, Ernesto casually passes the Riveras and goes by Héctor in a weakened state, sarcastically apologizing for what he just did with a smug smile.
Straightening up, Ernesto gleefully returns to the audience, oblivious that his true nature was just revealed. He is met with only scowls and jeers from the crowd calling him a murder and ordering him to get off the stage. Shrugging this hostility off, Ernesto tries to start the orchestra but they refuse to do anything other than glare at him in disgust and the conductor even snaps his baton in two without a word or second thought. Ernesto tries to win the crowd over by singing "Remember Me", but the crowd just boos even more as they throw fruit at him.
Confused at this reception, Ernesto sees on the monitors that Imelda's spirit guide Pepita had just saved Miguel and pieces together that his corruption was also witnessed to all the Land of the Dead as well. While the family embraces, Ernesto sees Pepita come from the curtains to punish him for everything he has put the Riveras through. As she menacingly approaches him, Ernesto meekly begs Pepita not to hurt him, but he is caught by the alebrije. Dangling from Pepita's talons as the crowd watches, Ernesto is thrown into a bell tower, where he smacks face-first into the iron bell with a resounding clang. While recovering, the bell falls and crushes a horrified Ernesto once again, stopping him for good. This is all recorded by the camera staff to everyone in the area who cheer at his defeat.
Returning to the Land of the Living, Miguel tells his family what really happened to Héctor all those years ago and de la Cruz's vile actions. Using the letters Héctor sent to Mamá Coco when she was young, the living Riveras expose Ernesto's murderous crimes. By the next Dia de los Muertos, Héctor is now credited by Santa Cecilia as an authentic musician and songwriter while Ernesto's statue is publicly defaced, with an addition to his shrine is a sign that reads "FORGET YOU" on it and the mausoleum has fallen into permanent disrepair as well.
- 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).
- Ernesto is among the darkest Pixar villains of all time, including Hopper, Syndrome, and Lotso.
- 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 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.
- 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 (as murderers of historical figures are remembered).
- This was originally explored in the deleted scene "To 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 evaporated with the marigold petals as he grabbed Miguel. This was scrapped as it proved too much of a rehash to the Disney Renaissance films.
- 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 murdered Héctor for selfish reasons, such as fame.
- He seemed to have familiarity with Imelda, possibly having come in contact with her before he and Héctor left Santa Cecilia.
- 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 destroying his only hope of getting home) 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 slipper to the head by Imelda. It was scrapped because it went against how Ernesto's downfall was to be finalized.
- ↑ 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.