Imelda Rivera is a major character in the 2017 Disney/Pixar animated feature film, Coco. She is the former matriarch of the Rivera family who became a spirit in the Land of the Dead after her death. However, she left behind a ban of music in her family as her lasting legacy, leading her great-great-grandson Miguel Rivera to uncover the cause of her decree.
After her husband leaves to pursue his dreams for music, Imelda is left to raise Coco alone, unaware of Héctor’s fate. She eventually teaches her family how to make shoes while also making sure music is forever banned in her family to avoid further damage.
- “Music had torn her family apart, but shoes held them all together. You see, that woman was my great-great-grandmother, Mamá Imelda. She died way before I was born.”
- ―Miguel, opening narration
Imelda was born in 1899 in Santa Cecilia, living there with her younger brothers, Felipe and Óscar. As she matured, she eventually fell in love with an aspiring musician named Héctor, partially due to their shared talent in music. Their romance soon developed into a marriage, and at eighteen to nineteen years old, Imelda gave birth to a daughter named Coco.
While Imelda was ready to settle down and raise Coco, Héctor wanted to give his music to the world, so he set out on tour with his friend Ernesto de la Cruz. However, he never returned, leaving Imelda to take care of Coco alone. Angered at Héctor for leaving their family (unaware that Hector wanted to return home, but was murdered by Ernesto), Imelda tore his picture off the family portrait, obscuring his identity in the family, and decreed music forbidden from then on, blaming it on his disappearance.
Needing to support her daughter, Imelda turned to shoemaking as Coco grew up, often making shoes for her own daughter and becoming very good at it. Soon, she taught everything she knew about shoemaking to her daughter, brothers, and son-in-law, and Coco taught her own daughters in turn. Working together with the growing Rivera clan, Imelda's hard work evolved into a family business.
Somewhere in her seventies, Imelda passed away  and her spirit was sent to the Land of the Dead. Although Héctor was also a spirit in the realm, she disowned him from the clan despite his wish to reconcile with her. With her loyal spirit guide Pepita, Imelda looked after the Riveras who arrived after their deaths. Her ban on music would be carried out by the living Riveras though, especially with Abuelita (although Imelda was slightly more empathetic about the matter with Miguel than Abuelita was).
- Mamá Imelda is Miguel's great-great-grandmother, the matriarch of the Rivera family and the founder of their successful shoemaking business. Miguel meets Mamá Imelda in the Land of the Dead and discovers she does not share his passion for music.
The matriarch of the Rivera family, Imelda is a maternal yet firm person who puts family first and personal interests last. When alive, she was more tender, as she was looking forward to raising a happy family. When her husband Héctor walked out, the burden of raising Coco alone coupled with bitter feelings towards her husband for leaving them led Imelda to ban music and work hard to build the Rivera family up, shaping her into the earnest person revered and at times feared by the rest of the Riveras.
The Imelda seen in the present day was a stark contrast to the person she was in life: bitter, serious, and strict. Imelda was also less patient with others which is also a trait she passes to her granddaughter Elena, as she smashes a computer in the afterlife customs with her boot despite the apprehensive agent's attempts to be civil with her. Although she loves her family, she has an antagonistic side stemming from her grudge towards her estranged husband and, in extension, music. This comes to the point of making Miguel take her blessing with the condition he quit pursuing musical desires, believing he will abandon the family as well, and later using force through her alebrije, Pepita, so he would take her blessing with the conditions.
Imelda's stubbornness makes it very hard for her to forgive and let go. Even when learning the truth about Héctor's death who was murdered while trying to return home, she still found it hard to forgive him however this is because she spent the remaining decades of her life not knowing that he was killed, but her value for family comes through when she accepts that it wasn't his fault entirely and agrees to help to save him, their descendant, and their daughter's memory. Despite wishing to forget her husband due to the pain he brought her, Imelda could not bring herself to hate him enough to let him permanently disappear from her life. She also slapped Ernesto de la Cruz with her boot for "murdering the love of her life," even after she said she couldn't forgive him, showing that deep down she still loved Héctor and she may have finally forgiven him.
It took seeing how much Miguel loved music and the dangers he put himself through, along with the tensions in the family, because of her rules against it, to get Imelda to finally let go of her grudge. It was also Miguel's words to her how it hurt him that his family, who should support him, were against the one thing that made him happy and telling Imelda that she ruined his life before he was even born, leaving her speechless and ashamed.
At the end of the movie, Imelda has forgiven Héctor and is happier to be with him, Coco, and the living family on Día de Los Muertos.
While she was a human, Imelda had long black hair tied in a low braided bun, fair skin, and brown eyes. She wore a sleeveless formal gown with black high heels. She also had two gold hoop earrings in each earlobe.
As a spirit, Imelda appears as a white skeleton with purple ribbons in her hair bun and two gray streaks (a sign of old age) on the left side of her head. Her formal purple dress is similar to the traditional Filipino baro't saya with frill designs on her cleavage area and the long skirt of her dress, and it was tucked into a red belt and had brown rope designs in each lining on her dress skirt. She wears short black boots, which she uses as a weapon sometimes. She also wears a long brown apron on her waist where she founded her shoemaking business and wears a matching purple choker with frill designs.
Imelda is first introduced during the film's opening prologue, being referred to as the "mama" with her husband and her daughter. She and her family would sing, dance and count their blessings but her husband wants to play for the world. As her husband never got back home, Imelda decided to banish music from her life, shifting her attention to create shoes to provide for her daughter, becoming this her source of livelihood. This would become the family tradition among the Rivera family as well as hating music. Imelda first appears in the Land of the Dead's Grand Central Station angrily accosting a very frightened clerk about the fact that she was unable to cross over with her other family. Though the woman tells her computer says no one put up her photo, Imelda refuses to believe this since her family always does and smashes the clerk's computer with her boot until her late family members approach her; with Imelda nearly striking her timid son-in-law Julio. She is stunned to see Miguel right in front of her, asking for an explanation. Once in the Department of Family Grievances with them, she is outraged that Miguel's current predicament is because he tried to take the guitar that belonged to his great-great-grandfather, the theft from the deceased thus cursing him. It soon turns to horror when Imelda learns that her inability to cross over to the land of the living was because Miguel accidentally removed her photo from the family ofrenda earlier. The family is informed that giving a family blessing to Miguel will break his curse, but it must be done before sunrise comes or he'll permanently remain in the Land of the Dead. Imelda, using a marigold petal, gives Miguel her blessing on the condition that he restores her photo to the ofrenda and ceases his musical ambitions.
Though Miguel is successfully returned to the living, he is transported back when he breaks the music condition on Imelda's blessing. Imelda reprimands him for breaking his promise in two seconds flat, but Miguel brushes off her scolding and tries to get a blessing from the other Riveras but is fearfully refused since none of them would dare to cross Imelda as she insists Miguel to take her blessing. Unwilling to accept her conditions, Miguel sneaks away from the department to search for his great-great-grandfather, believing he's Ernesto de la Cruz. After notifying the authorities, Imelda and the Riveras catch sight of Miguel running off with Héctor, who was unnoticed. With Miguel having escaped deeper into the realm, she calls forth her alebrije Pepita to help them track him down.
Pepita's tracking proves to be very helpful and soon they are led to the "Battle of the Bands" talent competition where Miguel and Héctor were performing. While her brothers, granddaughter, and in-law ask the spectators on Miguel's whereabouts, Imelda and her son-in-law ask the emcee thus blowing Miguel's cover. Miguel manages to escape the premises after ditching Héctor and Dante, but Imelda and Pepita manage to catch up with him. Imelda demands for him to take her blessing and go home, but he stubbornly refuses again. As Pepita was too big to chase Miguel through a narrow alleyway, Imelda chases him down but gets blocked off at the alleyway gates. Imelda pleads that she's trying to save his life, which Miguel retorts by calling her out on banning music in the family just because of her hatred towards it. She proves him wrong by singing a snippet of her favorite ballad, much to Miguel's shock, and explains that she used to love music and that she did not ban music out of hatred but she loved her family more. Unmoved by this, Miguel states that family are supposed to support one another (which is why he ran away in the first place), bitterly runs off to Ernesto de la Cruz's mansion, believing Imelda still won't accept or support his love for music, leaving her heartbroken.
Much later, she and Pepita are led by Dante to get Miguel, who was condemned by de la Cruz, out of a cenote. Imelda is overjoyed to find Miguel, but she notices Héctor is with him, much to her chagrin. This leads her to make Héctor cling to Pepita's tail for dear life during the flight back to the other Riveras. Watching Miguel being embraced, Imelda refuses Héctor's offer to help her off Pepita and instead dismounts independently. After hugging Miguel, she quickly blames Héctor for endangering him. Miguel claims responsibility and explains that Héctor tried to get him to return home, but he didn't listen. Thus, he agreed to accept Imelda's blessing and conditions, but only after reclaiming Héctor's photo from Ernesto so Héctor can see Coco again. Imelda scornfully reminds that Héctor abandoned the family, which prompts Miguel to reveal that Héctor wanted to come back to her and Coco all those years ago, but his attempt was tragically ruined when Ernesto murdered him just for his songs. Despite being shocked by the truth, Imelda is still understandably bitter as Héctor left Santa Cecilia in the first place. Before Héctor can explain himself further, he starts fading as Coco is losing her memories of him. Imelda sets aside her anger, unable to let this happen, and plans with the family to recover Héctor's photo to save him and their daughter.
Once in de la Cruz's stadium, Imelda and the family, dressed as Frida Kahlo, enter backstage and remove their disguises. Right in their search for the photo, they encounter Ernesto, who faintly recognizes her. With her boot, Imelda angrily slaps him twice for murdering her love and attempting a similar act on her descendant before he runs off, thus beginning the pursuit. While running behind him, Imelda is teased about her statement by Miguel and a touched Héctor. As the Riveras gain the upper hand over Ernesto's security guards, Imelda finally gets the photo but is accidentally sent to the stage. To save Miguel, Héctor, and Coco, Imelda sings La Llorona as Héctor plays backstage while she evades Ernesto's security guards, both wooing the audience and revitalizing her own former love of music in the process. Just as she tries to get off stage, Ernesto joins in midway, making it a duet as he gains the upper hand over her and snatches the photo and holds it out of her reach. However, on his final note, she stomps on his foot, making him yell out a painful mariachi cry, allowing her to reclaim the photo and rush offstage.
Beginning to reconcile with Héctor, Imelda tries to give Miguel her blessing with a new condition - never forget how much his family loves him - but the blessing is interrupted by Ernesto. The crooked musician grabs Miguel and shoves Imelda's intervention to the floor before she's helped up by Héctor. He rants on his "hard work" and deeds to achieve fame while in an altercation with Héctor and Miguel, refusing to let the latter ruin his legacy when he returns home. He throws Miguel off the roof, unaware that Miguel's grandaunts Rosita and Victoria have broadcasted the whole ordeal live to the audience. After Pepita saves Miguel and goes off to punish the now-disgraced Ernesto for his vile actions on the family and sends him flying to his defeat, Imelda tends to a fading Héctor, and they give their great-great-grandson a blessing, with no conditions included, just in time before sunrise.
Fortunately, Miguel restores Coco's memories and motivates her to reveal everything about her father. A year after these events, Imelda and Héctor have completely reconciled and are reunited with their now-deceased daughter. Before leaving, they share a kiss and together with the other deceased Riveras, they cross to the Land of the Living (accompanied by Dante and Pepita) to visit the living family on Dia de los Muertos. During Miguel and his cousins' celebration of music in the family, they are seen sharing a waltz.
During the episode “A Day in the Life of the Dead,” Imelda can be seen dancing with her husband Héctor and are immediately interrupted by Óscar and Felipe, who ride a back incredibly fast down the street.
- According to Lee Unkrich, Imelda is a year older than Héctor, who was born on November 30, 1900, while she was born in 1899.
- This suggests that since Mamá Coco was born in 1918, Imelda was married and had a child by the age of eighteen to nineteen when her husband was seventeen.
- Héctor's guitar was a gift given to Héctor by her.. However, it's unknown why Imelda didn't suspect anything wrong when Ernesto became famous with it as his instrument and Héctor didn't.
- Imelda passed on her habit of wielding her shoe as a weapon to her currently living granddaughter, Elena, who uses her slipper to threaten a mariachi at one point. In real life, this is a common practice with matriarchs in Mexico.
- In the novelization, the deceased Riveras state Miguel inherits her stubbornness. She possibly was the first of them to pass away.
- The song "Un Poco Loco" was originally written for her by Héctor.
- Imelda's role is similar to King Triton's in The Little Mermaid's prequel film, Ariel's Beginning.
- Both of them ban music due to losing their loved ones (Imelda bans music from her family out of heartbreak from her husband leaving her and their daughter just like how Triton bans music from Atlantica in the wake of his wife's tragic death). They then raise their children more strictly. These rules caused them to have a rocky relationship with a young member of their family (Miguel and Ariel), who runs away. After they reconnect with the happy memories of their spouse, they forsake these rules, along with reconciling with Miguel and Ariel respectively.
- The clerk's computer whom Imelda destroys using her boot is a 1980's Macintosh.
- 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). "She was in her early 70’s." (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 (November 28, 2017). "Gift from a wife… (reply to @leeunkrich I have a doubt, the cool guitar was a gift or bought? If so from a certain wife to her certain husband or from a certain friend who made it big to another friend? (sorry but really want to know))" (Tweet). Twitter.