Ernesto de la Cruz is the main antagonist of the 2017 Disney•Pixar animated feature 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 embarks on a quest to find Ernesto, whom he believes is his long-lost great-great-grandfather. However, Miguel learns a very different story from his heritage than what he expected. He was a former best friend and music partner of Héctor—Miguel's true great-great-grandfather—whom he had murdered so he could take the credit for his music and be a famous musician.
- “Ernesto de la Cruz, the greatest musician of all time...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!...He lived the kind of life you dream about... Until 1942...When he was crushed by a giant bell. I want to be just like him!”
- ―Miguel explaining de la Cruz's story
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. Though Héctor assured Ernesto that the latter can manage on his own, Ernesto desperately tried to convince Héctor to stay, stating he can't succeed without Héctor's songs, to no avail. 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 Héctor's songbook and guitar and passed them off 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. Just 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 of 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 more obvious villain in a similar vein to Hopper and Chick Hicks. He was originally born in 1885 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, friendly, 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. Ernesto saved Miguel when he fell in his pool out of genuine kindness and was genuinely going to him his blessing and allow him back to the Land of the Living. That is, that was before Miguel found out his secret, so it's debatable whether that act of decency was sincere or not.
However, it is later revealed that Ernesto was selfish, vain, fame-hungry, and desperate in life to the point of being a rank opportunist. His ambition was so extreme that it drove him to murder his best friend Héctor, who wanted to go 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 is 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 was thought to be his 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 nonchalantly passing off the grief the action had on the late Rivera family while giving 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, Ernesto 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 actions.
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 instead of defending himself. It should be noted that they outnumber him so it's understandable for him to flee instead of fighting them all at once. However, he still flees after calling his security guards to battle the Rivera family instead of helping his guards battle them, which perfectly shows his cowardice. 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. Unfortunately, he loses his balance and 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. Despite being aware he had no known living relatives, 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 while it was hard, he had to decide to pursue his 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 furious 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 Ernesto caused his death by poisoning him and stealing his songs to become famous.
Enraged, Héctor attacks Ernesto for his betrayal, but he is thrown into a cenote pit by Ernesto's security guards. To test Miguel's loyalty, Ernesto asks Miguel if he believes what Héctor said. Miguel denies it, but the uncertainty in his voice alerts Ernesto that he does. He crumbles the marigold petal and has Miguel thrown in the cenote as he confiscates Héctor's photograph from the boy. Taken away by the re-summoned 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 true lineage 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 boot, the first hit for murdering her love and a second one for trying the same with her grandson (the revelation of Héctor related to Miguel shocking him). A cowardly Ernesto flees at the sight of the family, realizing that they are after the photo he took and summons his security guards to deal with them.
During the scuffle, Imelda is accidentally put on stage with the photo and sings a forced duet with Ernesto while simultaneously trying to keep Héctor's photograph from him. She stomps his foot at the end of the song, making off with the photo while he recoils and screams a mariachi cry in pain. Before Miguel can be sent back to the land of the living, an infuriated Ernesto grabs him and pushes a protective Imelda to the ground. He drags Miguel toward a ledge while demanding the Riveras to stay back. Dante attempts to pull Miguel back but fails which causes Miguel to lose his hoodie.
A weakened Héctor pleads for his great-great-grandson to be allowed to go home as he's a living child, but Ernesto refuses because Miguel is a threat to his legacy in the realm of the living. Unknown to Ernesto, Miguel's Aunts Rosita and Victoria, respectively, have angled a nearby camera on him and switched it on to broadcast his rants against the Riveras to the audience. Miguel angrily calls him a coward with Ernesto declaring he is the greatest musician of Mexico. Miguel rebukes this by stating Héctor is the real musician and denouncing Ernesto as a murderer who took the credit by stealing his songs, shocking the audience with this revelation.
Not caring and holding Miguel to his face, the vile musician viciously defends his actions by ranting he'll do whatever it takes to seize his moment, repeating this statement before ultimately throwing Miguel from the building, much to the horror of the Riveras and the whole audience. Satisfied and believing he has won, Ernesto casually passes the horrified Riveras and a weakened Héctor, giving a cruelly sarcastic apology to his former friend.
Straightening up, Ernesto gleefully returns to the stage, only to be met with boos, jeers, and scowls from the audience, who furiously labels him a murderer and orders him to get off the stage. Shrugging this off, Ernesto tries to start the orchestra, but the instrumentalists only glare at him with outrage and contempt as the stoic conductor responds to his attempts by snapping his baton in two without a word or second thought. Ernesto then tries to win the crowd over by singing "Remember Me", but the livid crowd just boos even more as they throw produce at him. Confused at this reception, Ernesto sees on the monitors that Pepita has just saved Miguel and realizes that his vile actions have been revealed to all the Land of the Dead as well, causing him to be silently devastated at the fact that his legacy has now been destroyed.
As he ponders on what to do, Ernesto looks behind him to see Pepita emerge from the curtains ready to punish the murderous musician for everything he put the family through when he murdered Héctor. As she menacingly approaches him, Ernesto can only meekly beg Pepita not to hurt him, but the alebrije responds with a roar and pushes him offstage before catching him by the pelvis area and carrying him out of the stadium.
Screaming and begging in frantic terror as the crowd watches with curious glee, Ernesto is then thrown toward a nearby bell tower where he smacks face-first into the iron bell with a resounding clang before falling underneath. While recovering, the bell falls and falls on a horrified Ernesto once again, who is barely able to crawl away, stopping him (and trapping him inside the bell) for good. This is all broadcasted by the camera staff to everyone in the arena who cheer at his defeat (except for one individual returning from the concession stand and asking his wife what he missed).
Returning to the Land of the Living, Miguel reveals to his family what had 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 and manage to save Héctor from being forgotten. One year later, by the next Dia de Los Muertos, Héctor is now credited by Santa Cecilia as an authentic musician and songwriter while Ernesto's bust on his mausoleum now has a sign reading "FORGET YOU" hung on it, and the mausoleum has fallen into permanent disrepair as well. With that, Ernesto de la Cruz is now known as nothing more than as an infamous fraud, thief, and murderer to both the lands of the living and dead.
- 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 message of the sign (FORGET YOU) hung on Ernesto's bust at the film's ending was altered in two versions. Some have a translated version of the message while other international versions (especially in the English version with Spanish subtitles released in Mexico and some American cinemas) have replaced the message with a big "X" instead.
- Ernesto is the Spanish variation of the name Ernest, which sounds and is spelled very similarly to the word earnest, meaning truthful, genuine or heartfelt. And his last name is Spanish for "of the cross", meaning his name is literally "Heartfelt of the Cross". This is a major cause of dramatic irony considering his true nature is a liar, fraud, and murderer.
- 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.
- Several easy-to-miss signs foreshadow Ernesto's true colors and hint that he is not Coco's father:
- 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, but rather the symbol of a bull's head. The faceless man in the photo also has a noticeably thinner body type.
- Early on when Miguel watches an old video of Ernesto, the camera zooms in on the latter's hands when he's playing notes, implying it's a stunt double. There are only wide shots of Ernesto when he's merely strumming, hinting he's not as talented as he appears to be.
- Ernesto is clearly shocked when Miguel first calls him his great-great-grandfather, but still believed him. This implies that while Ernesto never married, he had at least one extramarital love affair and, given the time period and culture in which he lived, was worried about his reputation getting ruined by the accidental conception of a child outside wedlock.
- Héctor states that Ernesto wasn't very talented. This is proven true when the latter states in the flashback that he can't succeed without Héctor's songs.
- The novelization gives a hint in one of the flashback chapters. Ernesto convinces Héctor to go on a series of tours throughout Mexico. During their performances, Héctor notices that Ernesto’s singing and playing style shifts between happy and half-hearted depending on the audience size, and realizes that his partner cares more about attention than about the art behind music.
- Ernesto speaks casually when saying that he needs to get Miguel home, rather than with concern. As he prepares to give the blessing, Ernesto also states he hopes for Miguel to "die very soon". The first action foreshadows Ernesto's lack of authentic compassion while the second action foreshadows the lengths to which he is willing to go to avoid being exposed or upstaged.
- The involved movie staff have stated that a person can give their blessing to anyone who is loved like a family member (not just a blood relative), but said feeling must be mutual. Ernesto's petal does not glow when he offers Miguel his blessing, and this hints that while Miguel views Ernesto as family, Ernesto views Miguel as merely a disposable vehicle to fame.
- Frida Kahlo says that Ernesto never shows up to rehearsals, preferring instead to host parties in his mansion, which again demonstrates how he prioritizes attention over music and fans. The same goes for Héctor, who complains about that fact.
- When both speak of this, they speak it in a rather negative tone, reinforcing the fact that Ernesto wasn't talented in the first place.
- When Miguel asks Ernesto how he felt about leaving his family, the latter gives a vague response that it was "hard" but he had to follow his dreams. Ernesto does not mention a wife or a daughter, let alone Imelda or Coco.
- Miguel's family does not object to Miguel mentioning Ernesto, even though they object to him referencing Coco's father, although they did mention that they never knew about Coco's father's identity. Furthermore, when Miguel declares Ernesto to be his great-great-grandfather, the family claims that it is "impossible".
- Whenever Miguel's family talks about Coco's father, it is mentioned that he was forgotten and left off the ofrenda. Ernesto, on the other hand, is remembered by many people, both living and dead. This is the most obvious hint that Ernesto is not Miguel's great-great-grandfather.
- Despite getting crushed a second time, Ernesto still exists in the Land Of The Dead, as Lee Unkrich confirmed. Unkrich has stated 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.
- Ernesto is the first (and currently, only) main antagonist of a Pixar movie to already be dead.
- This also fits in with the general 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 murders of famous people 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 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 to be too much of a rehash to the climaxes of the Disney Renaissance films.
- 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.
- Taking into account the years in which they were born, Ernesto is four years older than Héctor. He was around 45-46 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 and understandable reasons for his actions, ultimately going mad to save his company and stop the energy crisis, while Ernesto murdered Héctor for selfish reasons, such as fame and recognition.
- Ernesto also has similarities with another Pixar main antagonist Charles F. Muntz from Up, as both are celebrities who are initially idolized by the protagonists. When the protagonists learn of their true nature, they stop idolizing them and become their enemies. Furthermore, they try to kill their former fans to stop them from ruining their plans.
- He seemed to have familiarity with Imelda, possibly having come in contact with her before he and Héctor left Santa Cecilia.
- When Héctor was about to leave Ernesto, Ernesto immediately offered a drink that had a poison that kills Héctor. However, there was no preparation for Ernesto poisoning the alcohol shown. This indicates that the alcohol had already been poisoned prior. It can be explained that Ernesto may have gotten the poison while on the tour. And since he and Héctor had been touring for some time, there are indications that they argued over it constantly, with Ernesto managing to talk him out of it while making contingency plans (including having the poison on hand) to kill him if he insisted on leaving. So when Héctor finally decided to go home and ignored Ernesto's pleas, that was when Ernesto snapped and poisoned him.
- 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.
- In the deleted scene "Dia de los muertos", it features a group of people singing a calm ballad, before turning it over-the-top and practically bastardizes the meaning of the holiday. This could mean to foreshadow how Ernesto bastardizes Héctor's song, "Remember Me", from a personal family song into a flashy fame song.
- Ernesto serves as a dark parallel to Miguel: Both of them are determined to become musicians. If Miguel hadn't learned how family is important to him, he would've ended up like Ernesto, who didn't care about family and friendship.
- Ernesto's downfall was possible primarily because of his movies; if Ernesto had not included the poisoning scene that parallels his poisoning of Héctor, his true nature may have never come to light.
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