- “Who's a good spirit guide? You are!”
- ―Miguel, praising Dante
Dante is extremely loyal to Miguel due to the boy's kindness earlier in the movie and the Riveras as a whole. Dante has a weakness toward food, as it led Miguel to embarrassing situations in the film. Although Dante is superficially goofy and simple-minded, it is shown that he is smarter than he looks. Throughout the film, he covertly guided Miguel to Héctor whenever the dog ran off and brought them together. However, these attempts were motivated by benevolent intentions. Dante was eager to help Miguel find who he was looking for, although being a dog, his actions came across as the dog being overly excited and random. Dante can also sense spirits and was, therefore, the only living creature to live in the Land of the Dead.
Dante's loyalty is demonstrated to be his most endearing quality. He can become extremely defensive for Miguel's well-being, as he tries to stop Miguel from finding Ernesto de la Cruz after the boy tries to avoid his late family members and ditch Héctor; being fully aware of the boy's heritage. While he is utmost loyal to his owner, Dante is very sensitive when people close to him hurt his feelings. However, his loyalty is proven when he never gives up looking for Miguel, allowing the Riveras to rescue Miguel later in the film. It was because of this that Miguel's acceptance and declaration of Dante revealed Dante's true nature as a spirit guide. The revelation highlighted that, despite the opposition he faces, Dante's relationship to the people he identifies as his family brings him to help them however he can.
Like most dogs of the Xoloitzcuintle breed, Dante is a skinny, almost hairless dog with wrinkled brown skin and long legs. He appears to be under-conditioned with a tear on his left ear, given the fact that he is a stray. He is often seen with his tongue sticking out, due to his missing teeth.
Much later after he helped Pepita and Imelda rescue Miguel and Héctor from their exile in a cenote, Dante becomes an alebrije guardian and is revealed to gain wings smaller than Pepita's. This appearance retains Dante's body shape, although his skin became radically multicolored, his tongue turned blue, and his left and right eyes turned pink and yellow respectively. He would retain this appearance only in the Land of the Dead. When he returned to Santa Cecilia, he resumed his Xoloitzcuintle form.
Role in the film
Dante first appears coming out of a trashcan after Miguel drums it and an alebrije stall close by. Miguel greets his friend and they walk into town. Although Miguel tries to keep Dante's adoption a secret, Dante shows up later to get Miguel's attention when the boy was walking home with his family. This proves to be a problem to Abuelita Elena who after berating a mariachi (with her chancla) in the Mariachi Plaza chases Dante (who tries to follow Miguel home) off with her chancla as she escorts her grandson home.
Later in the evening, Dante tries to eat the food offering on the Rivera's family ofrenda. Miguel asks him to hide under it as Abuelita arrives. After Abuelita leaves the family ofrenda room, Dante tries to eat the food offering again only to be stopped by Miguel at the cost of the picture frame of Imelda, Coco, and Miguel's great-great grandfather. This makes Miguel realize that his great-great grandfather has the same guitar as Ernesto de la Cruz and believes him to be the same person.
At night, Dante follows Miguel who ran away from his family to Santa Cecilia's graveyard but stops as he sensed spirits from the Land of the Dead. After Miguel is transformed into a spirit by strumming Ernesto's guitar in his mausoleum, Dante is the only living being who can interact with him. He then leads Miguel to the deceased Rivera family members and accompanies them to the Land of the Dead. After a rift between Miguel and his deceased family members (Imelda included) in the Department of Family Reunions, Dante accompanies Miguel and Héctor as they escape from Imelda's sight. Héctor takes them to the art district, during that time Dante spots a monkey Alebrije, whom he gets into a scuffle with. The alebrije's owner Frida Kahlo take a liking to him as she hypothesizes to Miguel about Dante being an alebrije guardian. During Miguel's performance in the "Battle of the Bands" contest, Dante brings Héctor into the performance. After their cover is blown by Pepita and the Riveras, Miguel leaves Héctor following a scuffle between them and goes to find Ernesto himself. Dante tries to bring Miguel back but is rejected by Miguel as a result.
Despite this, Dante would later help Pepita and Imelda to get Miguel and Héctor out of the cenote after the two were exiled there by de la Cruz. During the rescue, Miguel realizes Dante knew the truth all along and declares him a spirit guide for reuniting him and Héctor (his real great-great-grandfather). Dante becomes an alebrije from Miguel's declaration. At first, Dante struggles to fly after due to his small wings and keeps falling during the journey back to the deceased Riveras.
Dante later joins in the Riveras' mission to recover Héctor's photo from de la Cruz as he knocks down one of his security guards. He later tries to pull Miguel from Ernesto's grasp but to no avail. While Miguel is thrown by de la Cruz from the latter's stadium, he dives down and struggles to save him but fails as Miguel was heavy for him, leaving Pepita to save Miguel instead. Dante remains in the Land of the Dead with Riveras after Imelda and a dying Héctor transports Miguel back to the Land of the Living just in time before sunrise.
During the one year before the film's epilogue, Dante appears to be friends with Pepita in the Land of the Dead, thus becoming a new alebrije guardian to the family with her, and eventually managed to be appreciated by the living Riveras (in fact, Abuelita has warmed up to him). He is last seen with Pepita accompanying Héctor, Imelda, Mamá Coco, and the other deceased Riveras to the Land of the Living (taking on their animal forms once they enter) and they join in Miguel and his older cousins' celebration of music in the family during the next Dia de Los Muertos.
- Dante was inspired by the Xoloitzcuintle breed (or "Xolo" for short) the filmmakers played with during the film's research process, which is the national dog of Mexico. According to Lee Unkrich, the Xolo is featured in legends of the Aztec afterlife where the traveller needed to have a Xolo with them to make the journey through the afterlife.
- Dante's tongue hangs out on the side of his mouth rather than in front. In real life, this is because the Xolo is genetically prone to losing teeth and their tongue will hang out when this happens. When learning this, the animators decided to make this trait part of Dante's character.
- The name "Dante" can be associated with the Italian poet Dante Alighieri. He was famously known for writing the narrative poem Divine Comedy, in which Dante himself goes through the three realms of the afterlife (Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise) to reach salvation, for he was so morally confused he lost his right way; he is accompanied, one by one, by three guides (Virgil, Beatrice and Bernard of Clairvaux), who follow one another with the progress of the journey.
- Ironically, the three guides in the poem can be seen as a parallel to Dante's role in Coco: a spirit guide who must accompany his protégé, Miguel, who is, like Alighieri's character, a lost and confused living person who has to make his way in an otherworldly land, in search of truth and happiness.
- In the film, Miguel named Dante after the horse Ernesto de la Cruz owned in his films.
- When Dante whimpers when Miguel tells him from being a dumb dog is the same recording of Bullseye's whimpering from Toy Story 3, and Gamma from Up.
- During the film, Miguel passes by a table of alebrije figures. Next to the table was a trash can that Dante popped out of, foreshadowing that Dante is a spirit guide.
- Watkins, Gwynne (March 29, 2017). "New Pixar Short 'Dante's Lunch' Introduces 'Coco' Dog, Plus Director Lee Unkrich on Whether 'Coco' Will Make You Cry (Exclusive)". Yahoo Movies. Retrieved on March 29, 2017.