Héctor Rivera is the deuteragonist of the 2017 Disney/Pixar animated feature film Coco. He was a Mexican musician in life and became a residential spirit in the Land of the Dead in death. Héctor helped Miguel in his quest to find the famous singer Ernesto de la Cruz and escape the Land of the Dead. Little did they know, however, Héctor and Miguel had a hidden connection.
- “The papá, he was a musician. He and his family would sing, and dance, and count their blessings. But he also had a dream: to play for the world. And one day he left with his guitar, and never returned.”
- ―Miguel, opening narration
Many years ago, Héctor was a passionate musician from Santa Cecilia, born there on November 30, 1900. During his life, he met a woman named Imelda, and their shared talent in music sparked a romance. They fell in love, married, and later had a daughter named Coco in 1918. Héctor was a loving father and wrote the song "Remember Me" for her. While Imelda was ready to settle down and plant roots for their family, Héctor still wanted to give his songs to the world. So in mid-1940, he set out on tour with his childhood friend Ernesto de la Cruz. As they performed together on tour, Héctor wrote the songs and Ernesto sang them. During the tour, Héctor began to feel homesick and came around to Imelda's way of thinking and decided to go home to his family. When he told Ernesto, they had an argument where Ernesto begged him to stay as he needed his songs but Héctor was unmoved. Ernesto seemingly accepted his friend‘s decision and offered to send him off with a toast saying he would move Heaven and Earth for his amigo. On his way to the train station, Héctor suddenly collapsed and died as Ernesto spiked his toast with poison earlier.
During his time in the Land of the Dead, Héctor learned how Ernesto took credit for his songs, growing resentful. When Imelda died, she refused to welcome Héctor back to the Riveras and disowned him, as she believed him to have abandoned her and Coco for his music. Estranged from his family, Héctor spent his afterlife trying to cross over to the Land of the Living to see Coco again but was rejected as his descendants, having a low opinion of him, wouldn't put his picture up. Shunned, he slowly started to be forgotten.
- Héctor is a charming trickster in the Land of the Dead who is forced to enlist help from Miguel to visit the Land of the Living.
Héctor has acquired a number of bad traits during his time in death: being deceitful, quick-dealing, and having the air of a con artist. However, these bad qualities stem from neither ambition nor malice, but rather absolute desperation to make up for the mistakes he made in life—leaving his family behind—and make them right. Despite matching what his run-down appearance may suggest, Héctor, at his best, is a charming, creative, and deeply family-oriented man.
Héctor's most defining qualities are his deep love for family, especially Coco, and the profound regret he feels that resulted from his choice to leave his family to share his music with the world. In life, Héctor loved nothing more than Imelda and Coco. For him, music was to show this love. Even his tour with Ernesto was motivated out of the desire to share his feelings with the world. Before learning the true circumstances of his death, Héctor suffered the consequences of leaving and was incapable of telling his family, especially his daughter, how much he loved them. He carried a deep sense of shame for his actions; preventing him from reconnecting with his embittered wife after she died. When left with nothing, Héctor's regret for his choice to leave developed into his own self-loathing and cynical outlook on himself. Even after he learned he was actually murdered, Héctor still carried the responsibility of his choice, which moved Imelda when he owned up on the pain that he caused their family. It is seeing Héctor's love for his family and profound suffering while separated from them that teaches his descendant, Miguel, that family is even more important than his love of music no matter what.
Héctor is a creative genius and an immensely talented artist. His brilliance is most prominently on display within the songs he wrote, which had a tremendous national influence in the world. Héctor's creativity is also on display in his movements as a skeleton. While most of the dead move as they did in life, excepting the occasional reconstruction when they fall apart, Héctor has found all manner of creative ways to move his skeletal body. Héctor's creativity is shown to come from his heart; many of Héctor's best songs were written as an expression of his feelings towards those he loves. Examples being writing "Un Poco Loco" for Imelda and, famously, writing "Remember Me" for Coco.
It is here that he draws a parallel between himself and Ernesto de la Cruz. While Ernesto was strongly incapable of inspiration for his music because he wanted to be recognized for it, Héctor was able to because he wanted to express his feelings of the relationships that inspired him.
While he is often passive and evasive in the face of conflict compared to Imelda, Héctor would fight back when he's deeply betrayed or if his family is at stake. His weak condition did not hold him back in a scuffle with Ernesto after discovering he caused him to remain separated from his loved ones or hold his own with the security guards to save Miguel's fading life and Coco's deteriorating memory, and again to save Miguel from Ernesto. While he held a grudge against Ernesto for taking the credits for his music (which later grew hateful after discovering his betrayal), Héctor showed no ill will to Miguel when it was assumed the latter was fraudulent musician's descendant; growing fond of the boy in their time together and comforted him when his supposed great-great-grandfather turned on him.
At the start of the film's events, Héctor was shown to dislike music nearly as much as his estranged family. Though he loved music in life, Héctor deeply regrets what his musical pursuits cost him; he was very reluctant to play music before meeting Miguel. Likewise, Héctor has also come to dislike musicians due to Ernesto neglecting of him after his death. Thus, Héctor had come to view musicians as self-important showboating jerks, including himself for once being one.
However, Héctor still enjoyed listening to music and was a musically supportive teacher to Miguel. Over the course of the film, Héctor regains his love of music, especially after he and Imelda reignite their attraction to each other through a song. One year after Miguel's time to the Land of the Dead, Héctor is finally accepted back into his family and enjoys playing his music for his family once more.
Before he was murdered by Ernesto De la Cruz and some flashbacks where he sings "Remember Me" for his daughter Coco, Héctor was a human with short black hair and loose bangs, tanned skin, brown eyes, and a goatee. He wore a light brown Mexican formal attire with white upper outlines similar to Ernesto's.
As a spirit in the Land of the Dead, Héctor appears as a skeleton with his bones yellow and rusted, sans the bright gold, green, and purple markings on his skull, which are nearly faded. His appearance was overall unkempt - his black hair became messier, while the rest of himself was held together by things such as tape and bandages on his right arm and left leg. On his head, he wears a straw hat. He also wears a torn-up indigo formal jacket with a red tie and red, black and white suspenders, and torn-up light brown and black pinstriped pants to show his skeletal knees and feet, giving him the appearance highly reminiscent of a scare-crow. He also gained a single gold tooth in his frontal teeth.
By the end of the film, after finally being remembered, Héctor's appearance has since changed. His bones have become brighter and his markings are fully colored. In addition, his wardrobe has been changed to more of a clean-cut approach - his hair is straightened, his jacket has been converted to a vest, his pants have been mended, and now wears brown dress shoes made by Imelda, while retaining his straw hat and tie.
Role in the film
Héctor first appears trying to cross over to the Land of the Living disguised as Frida Kahlo. The agent quickly checks that he isn't recognized on his family's ofrenda, leading Héctor to make a run for it. But his hopes are in vain, as he ends up sinking into the marigold petals and is arrested. At the Grand Central Station, Héctor is left off with a warning by the officer and had his request to get his costume back denied. After leaving and angrily crumpling his warning, Héctor meets a living boy named Miguel who, having overheard that Héctor knows Ernesto de la Cruz, asks Héctor to take him to Ernesto to receive Ernesto's blessing so Miguel can go home. Héctor tells him he will get him to de la Cruz if Miguel puts Héctor's portrait on an ofrenda to allow him to cross over, which Miguel agrees.
Héctor takes Miguel to Frida Kahlo's studio, where he assumes de la Cruz would be rehearsing. While being chewed out by a seamstress for losing the dress he used in his fail attempt to cross the bridge, Miguel wanders off with Dante and ends up talking to the real Frida Kahlo herself. Héctor soon catches up to him and receives disappointment from the boy, having just learned that de la Cruz was hosting a party at his mansion and no one was allowed in without an invitation. After being teased by a group of musicians over his death, the pair were told that there was a music contest in Plaza de la Cruz where the winner gets access to de la Cruz's mansion.
Seeing as Miguel needs a guitar, Héctor takes him to the shantytown where spirits who are being forgotten live, to acquire Chicharrón's guitar. After some banter, Héctor agrees to sing "Everyone Knows Juanita" for Chicharrón, changing one of the verses because there are children (Miguel) present. Satisfied, Chicharrón fades away. Héctor explained to Miguel that unless there's a relative in the living world who remembers their ancestor, their spirit passes onto what they call the final death, the same fate that awaits him if Miguel doesn't take his photo home.
Having succeeded in their mission to acquire an instrument, Miguel enters the contest. Héctor objects to Miguel's plan to sing "Remember Me" due to its popularity, as evidenced by other contestants rehearsing around them, so Miguel decides to sing "Un Poco Loco". But upon learning that Miguel possesses little to no experience in performing, Héctor insists that he take his place on stage but is refused, as Miguel was determined to prove himself as a musician. Héctor then decides to help Miguel be ready for his performance by giving him pointers, such as to loosen up and giving out a grito, to little avail. When it was Miguel's turn to take the stage, he gets stage fright, and Héctor reminds him of the things he taught him from afar, giving the child confidence to perform. While Miguel sings, Dante pulls Héctor in to perform alongside Miguel, receiving applause from the crowd. Then suddenly, Miguel dragged Héctor off the stage as the master of ceremonies announced to the crowd that Miguel's family is looking for him and wants to send him home. Hearing this, Héctor realizes that Miguel has lied to him about de la Cruz being Miguel's only family and that he could've gone home any time. Héctor scolds Miguel for leaving his family and attempts to bring Miguel to them, but this makes a hurt Miguel abandon him and go off to find Ernesto himself after distracting Héctor with his discarded photo.
Later, Héctor (disguised as Frida again) sneaks into his old partner's mansion and finds Miguel with Ernesto. Embittered with his old friend for taking the credit, Héctor reveals he wrote the songs Ernesto is famous for. He pleads with Miguel to fulfill their deal and set his photo on an ofrenda so he can see his "girl" before he's forgotten. As Héctor reminds Ernesto of the latter's statement of moving heaven and earth, Miguel points the similarity to one of the films Ernesto brought back from one of his trips to the Land of the Living which has the same line; where the villain tries to poison Ernesto. Watching the film, Héctor remembers his last night alive and pieces together that Ernesto had murdered him and stole his songbook and guitar to become famous. Enraged upon this revelation, Héctor attacks Ernesto for ruining his attempt to go home. Ernesto fearfully calls for security and takes Héctor's portrait while having Héctor, and soon a shocked Miguel, thrown into a cenote.
As Héctor comforts a hurt Miguel (devastated by Ernesto's betrayal and his own choice to leave his family), he starts to fade. Héctor explains it's because his daughter, the reason he was trying to cross the bridge, is forgetting him and laments about his daughter Coco. Hearing this name prompts Miguel to show him a family photo of young Coco and Imelda, the boy's great-grandmother and great-great-grandmother. Familiar with the torn picture, the shocked Héctor confirms he is the faceless man holding the guitar, not Ernesto. He then explains he wrote "Remember Me" out of love for Coco, singing it in a sincere tone. After this, Héctor shamefully believes he's a sorry example of an ancestor, but Miguel lifts his spirits by explaining he's always felt different in the family, but now knows that it comes from Héctor, his true great-great-grandfather. They then rejoice at the revelation of their heritage and pride of being family. Although it seems they remain trapped in the cenote; at that second, they are discovered by Dante and saved by Imelda and Pepita. Héctor sheepishly greets his wife, whose joy at finding Miguel turns to bitter at the sight of him, and comments on her appearance before being forced to cling for dear life (or lack thereof) on Pepita's tail in the flight back to the other Riveras. Shaken from the experience, Héctor offers to help Imelda off Pepita, but is brushed off. After Imelda embraces Miguel, she chews out Héctor, believing he placed the boy in danger in the first place. Miguel vouches for Héctor by taking the blame and explaining Ernesto had killed Héctor when he was trying to get back home. While stunned at this news, she is still angry until Héctor starts fading again because of their daughter's decreasing memory. Imelda relents and she, Héctor Miguel, and the other Riveras plan to get Héctor's photo back before he's lost forever.
With help from Frida Kahlo, the Riveras sneak in the backstage. Héctor is touched to learn Imelda still loves him when she calls him "the love of [her] life" after slapping Ernesto, only for Imelda to recant what she said. After his wife gets the portrait back after being forced to sing "La Llorona", Héctor and Imelda finally start to reconcile. Together, they prepare to give Miguel their blessing to return home. However, a furious Ernesto interrupts and snatches their great-great-grandson before he can take the blessing. With his condition deteriorating further and his descendant at Ernesto's mercy, Héctor pleads with his former friend to not hurt Miguel and let him go home, but Ernesto refuses because the child will surely ruin his legacy if he goes back to the living. Without mercy, he drops Miguel from the building, much to the horror of Héctor and the other late Riveras. Ernesto cruelly apologizes to Héctor as he casually walks past him to continue performing. Fortunately, Miguel is saved at the last minute by Pepita, but the photo is lost in the water. Ernesto's crimes are exposed to the dead, followed by Pepita delivering a fitting punishment on the now-disgraced musician for how he tore Héctor's family apart, avenging Héctor as well. Sunrise approaches as Héctor starts to fade away and Miguel's transformation into a skeleton is almost complete. Miguel refuses to leave Héctor behind until he is forced to accept his great-great-grandparents' blessing, which sends him home, with Miguel promising Héctor that he won't let Coco forget him.
Once Miguel returns to the living Riveras, Coco remembers Héctor when Miguel sings "Remember Me" to her, thereby saving Héctor's memory. Along with her father's identity, Coco shows the letters he wrote to her, proving he was the true writer of Ernesto's songs. She also reveals she preserved the part of his face Imelda tore off from the family photo years ago, restoring his status among the Rivera family, who now have a different opinion of their ancestor, and earning a rightful place on the family ofrenda.
One year later, Héctor has received the recognition he deserves in both the realms of the living and deceased. He is happy to learn that he can finally cross over, thanks to his picture now restored by his descendants who greatly value his memory. Héctor and Imelda have rekindled their love and have been reunited with a recently deceased Coco whom he happily hugs and kisses after being separated from for decades. Together with the other late Riveras, Héctor finally crosses over to the Land of the Living during Día de Los Muertos to see their living family. He and Imelda dance to their elder great-great-grandchildren's song before joining Miguel in a guitar duet using a spiritual version of his guitar, proudly watching him.
- In terms of actual age, Héctor is a year younger than Imelda, and four years younger than Ernesto.
- Héctor is one of the six characters in the movie to be voiced by the same actor in both the English and Latin American Spanish dubs of the film, the others being his son-in-law Julio Rivera, the Departure Agent, the Security Guard, his great-grandson Tío Berto, and great-granddaughter-in-law Luisa Rivera.
- The way he embraces loved ones is similar to his living granddaughter.
- Héctor was 21 years old when he died.
- There are some hints that foreshadow Héctor's true identity as Miguel's great-great grandfather and actual death:
- The guitar of the faceless man in the Rivera's torn family photo has a gold tooth painted on the handle, just like Héctor's gold tooth.
- Dante brings Miguel to Héctor when the former tells him that he's looking for his great-great grandfather.
- His statement that no one put up his photo.
- He states Miguel will thank him later when he returns him to his family, referring to his own mistake of forsaking family.
- He defensively refuses to allow Miguel to play "Remember Me", a song that he wrote as a lullaby for Coco.
- The toast he shared with Chicharrón involved him finishing his drink while Chicharrón's remained full, hinting at how Héctor was murdered by poisoning.
- Héctor claiming he died from food poisoning further alludes to his murder.
- Héctor's behavior when he catches up with Miguel in the studio, hinting his identity as a parent.
- He resembles Miguel a bit when he was alive.
- Héctor's portrait was with him when he died, hence why his spirit owned one.
- The novelization states that Coco and her father have the same chin and cheekbones.
- Héctor wore the white coat bigger than his size just like David Byrne.
- The novelization also reveals Héctor tried many methods to cross the bridge; impersonating Diego Rivera, disguising himself as an alebrije, and hiding in a raspa cart. He further hints his identity by telling, though not giving her name, about Coco and how he sings a song to her every night, hoping it can bypass the border between life and death and reach her at least in her dreams.
- The novelization reveals more of Héctor's past. Ernesto was the one who convinced Hector to go on a series of tours throughout Mexico. Héctor gave in to his demands in the hopes of getting more inspiration from the tour. Throughout their performances, Héctor often mailed the money gained from the tours to his family. Héctor notices the differences in his friend's performances, shifting between happy and halfhearted depending on the majority of the audience, and realizes Ernesto really cared only about the attention he was getting. This revelation made him realize that Ernesto's motives had destroyed his purpose of the tour and it convinced him to attempt to return home.
- According to his voice actor, Gael Garcia Bernal, Héctor's birthday is on November 30.
- Attributing to this, Héctor died sometime in 1922, confirmed by the fact that he died at 21 years of age and his birthday occurring on November 30.
- November 30 is also the birthday of Héctor's voice actor.
- In both the photograph and the flashback sequences, Héctor is not shown as having a gold crowned tooth, meaning that he got it posthumously.
- Héctor's nickname "Chorizo" stemmed from the belief that he died eating a chorizo (a spicy mexican sausage), which itself originated from Ernesto when telling a dying Héctor that he was probably suffering a stomach-ache from a chorizo.
- Deleted scenes revealed that Héctor would work as a tour bus guide in the Land of the Dead. He would avoid Ernesto's mansion as Ernesto coldly refused his service out of fear of his undoing.
- Hector disappearing (as his living daughter forgets him) but coming back at the end (as his daughter was able to remember him and tell people about him) could be a parody of the Disney death, as Hector already was dead.
- Up until the end of the movie (aside from flashbacks), Hector is barefooted. In the end, when finally he can cross the bridge to the Land of the Living, he is wearing shoes, symbolizing how he has been welcomed back into the family (due to Imelda's legacy of shoemaking).
- Héctor's limping walk was inspired by Dustin Hoffman's performance as Rico "Ratso" Rizzo in the film Midnight Cowboy.
- Unkrich, Lee (December 5, 2017). "1900 (reply to @amyblack1256 @leeunkrich when was Hector born? (exact date if u can, please) 😊)" (Tweet). Twitter.
- Garcia Bernal, Gael (November 30, 2017). "Sure, it's Héctor's birthday too!" (Tweet). Twitter.
- Unkrich, Lee (December 5, 2017). "Héctor was 18 when he had Coco. Coco was 3 - 4 when Héctor left. Sorry for any previous errors." (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 5, 2017). "Correction: Imelda was 19 when Coco was born. Imelda was born in 1899 (a year older than Héctor!)" (Tweet). Twitter.
- Unkrich, Lee (December 3, 2017). "1896 (reply to @Aleprettycat Dear @leeunkrich, when was Ernesto de la Cruz born?" (Tweet). Twitter.
- Unkrich, Lee (December 5, 2017). "21 (reply to @EllenBecker95 Love this movie so much ♥️♥️ I have a question...what age did Héctor die? He’s so young 🤔" (Tweet). Twitter.
- Unkrich, Lee (December 3, 2017). "He had it with him when he died. 😊" (Tweet). Twitter.
- ACMSIGGRAPH (October 30, 2018). "SIGGRAPH Now: Bringing Coco's Skeletons to Life" (Video). Youtube.