Imelda is the tritagonist of the 2017 Pixar 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.
- “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 19 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 neglecting his family, Imelda tore his picture off the family portrait and decreed music was forbidden from then on.
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 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.
When she reached her 70's, Imelda finally died 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.
- 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 Héctor walked out, the burden of raising Coco 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 (which passed to her granddaughter Abuelita Elena). Imelda was also less patient with others, as she smashes a computer in the afterlife customs despite the agent's attempts to be civil with her. Although she loves her family, she has an antagonistic side stemming from her grudge towards Héctor, and in extension music. This comes to the point of manipulating Miguel to take her blessing with the condition of not becoming a musician, believing he will abandon his family as well; later, she uses force through her alebrije Pepita to find him 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, she still found it hard to forgive him, but her value for family comes through when she accepted that it wasn't his fault and agrees to help to save both him and their daughter. 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 fade 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. It took seeing her family happy playing music and in danger because of her actions to get Imelda to let go of her grudge. At the end of the movie, it seems Imelda had fully forgiven Héctor and is happier to be with him, Coco and the living family in Dia de Los Muertos.
Imelda while she was a human who has long black hair tied in a low braided bun, fair skin and brown eyes. She wears a sleeveless formal gown and black high heels. She also gains two gold hoop earrings in each sides.
As a spirit, Imelda appears as a white skeleton with purple streaks in both of her eyes and her hair gains gray streaks in the left side of her head. Her purple formal dress is similar to the traditional Filipino baro't saya with frill designs on her cleavage and the long skirt of her dress and it was tucked into a red belt and has brown rope designs in each linings on her dress skirt. She wears black short boots which she uses as a weapon. 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.
Role in the film
Imelda is first seen 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 that her computer says no one put up Imelda's photo, Imelda refuses to believe this since her family always does and smashes the clerk's computer (which she calls a devil-box) with her boot while her family members approach her with Dante and the cursed Miguel. Once in the Department of Family Grievances with them, she is horrified and angry when she learned that Miguel accidentally removed the picture of her and Coco from the family ofrenda earlier. The family is informed that blessing Miguel will break the curse before sunrise. Imelda, using a marigold petal, gives Miguel her blessing on the condition that he will never play music again. Once Miguel breaks the condition and is transported back to the Land of the Dead, Imelda remonstrates him for breaking his promise in two seconds flat. Miguel tries to get a blessing from the other Riveras but is refused since none of them would dare to cross Imelda as she insists Miguel take her blessing. Miguel's unwillingness to accept her conditions leads him to escape from the department. Later, Imelda and the Riveras catch sight of Miguel who runs off with Héctor deeper into the district. Being left with no choice, she calls forth Pepita (her pet) to help the family 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 the family asks the spectators on Miguel's whereabouts, Imelda asks the emcee thus blowing Miguel's cover. Miguel manages to escape after ditching Héctor and Dante, but Imelda and Pepita manage to catch up with him. As Pepita was too big to chase Miguel through a narrow alleyway, Imelda chases him down but gets locked out at the alleyway gates. They both argue, with Miguel calling her out on her 'selfish' decision to ban music in the family and her hatred towards it. She then sings a snippet of her favorite ballad (much to Miguel's shock) and explains that she did not ban music out of hatred but out of concern for the family. Miguel bitterly runs off to Ernesto de la Cruz's mansion after believing Imelda still won't accept him and music.
Much later, she and Pepita were led by Dante to get Miguel and Héctor (who were condemned by de la Cruz) out of a cenote, much to her chagrin upon the sight of her husband. This leads her to make Héctor cling on Pepita's tail for dear life during the journey back to the Riveras. Once back, Imelda refuses Héctor's offer to help her off Pepita and instead dismounts on her own. After hugging Miguel, she quickly blames Héctor's for Miguel's previous predicament, only for Miguel to claim responsibility, explaining that Héctor wanted to return him home but he didn't listen. Thus, he agreed to accept Imelda's blessing and conditions, but only after they reclaim Héctor's photo from Ernesto so Héctor can see Coco again. Imelda scornfully reminded that Héctor abandoned his family, only for Miguel to reveal to her that Héctor was planning to return home only for Ernesto to murder him for his songs. Despite being told the truth of Héctor's death and being shocked by it, Imelda can't let her anger go before Héctor starts fading as Coco is forgetting herself. Imelda then relents, planning with the family to recover Héctor's photo in order to save Héctor 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 recognizes Imelda. With her boot, Imelda slaps him twice for murdering the love of her life and attempting the same thing on her descendant before he runs off, thus beginning the pursuit. While running behind him, Imelda is teased about her statement on Héctor by Miguel and her touched husband. As the Riveras gain the upper hand over Ernesto's security guards, Imelda finally gets the photo but gets accidentally sent to the stage. In order to buy time, 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 as he snatched the photo and held it out of her reach. However, on his final note, she stomps on his foot, making him scream out a painful mariachi cry, allowing her to reclaim the photo and rush offstage.
Having reconciled with Héctor, Imelda tries to give Miguel her blessing with a new condition - never forget how much his family loves him - but is interrupted by Ernesto. The crooked musician grabs Miguel and pushes Imelda aside as he rants on his hard work and his deeds to achieve them before he throws Miguel off the roof, unaware he was recorded live by Rosita and Victoria to the audience. After Pepita saves Miguel and goes off to punish de la Cruz (now reviled by the dead) and sends him flying to his defeat, Imelda tends to a fading Héctor and gives Miguel their blessing (no conditions given) just in time before sunrise.
A year after their adventures, Imelda and Héctor have become closer again and are reunited with their now-deceased daughter Coco. Together with their other deceased Riveras, the three cross to the Land of the Living (accompanied by Dante and Pepita) to visit the living Riveras. During Miguel's celebration of music in the family, they are seen dancing together to Dia de Los Muertos.
- According to Lee Unkrich, Imelda is a year older than Héctor, who was born in the year 1900.
- Héctor's Guitar was a gift given to Héctor by her.
- Imelda passed on her habit of wielding her shoe as a weapon to her 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 stubborness.
- The song "Un Poco Loco" was originally written for her by Héctor.
- 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.