- “I'm going to be a musician!”
Miguel Rivera is the protagonist of the 2017 Disney•Pixar animated feature film Coco. He is a boy who finds himself in the realm of the dead during the festive holiday of Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead).
- Miguel is a 12-year-old aspiring musician who struggles against his family's generations-old ban on music. When a magical mishap lands him in the Land of the Dead, Miguel seeks out his idol, Ernesto de la Cruz, to help him return to the Land of the Living before it's too late.
Originally, Miguel was to be an American child who had trouble coping with the death of his mother in the earliest story draft of the film; this would have been resolved with him learning to let go of his grief. However, since this went against the meaning of Día de Los Muertos, Pixar abandoned that concept to prevent misrepresentation as seen in Pocahontas and Ratatouille. Miguel's design was inspired by two real-life kids who were Emilio Fuentes (who provided the original scratch voice for Miguel while the movie was in development) and Adriel Arriaga (the son of a character designer). In early drafts and deleted scenes, Miguel was originally called Marco, who was more confident and arrogant. He was originally not cursed when he stole Héctor's guitar as it went to the deceased Riveras instead (causing them to sing strangely whenever they open their mouths). He originally was also able to cross the bridge to the Land of the Dead with Héctor's guitar as his ticket. Marco was redeveloped into Miguel because the production team realized that Disney had another character named Marco from Star vs. the Forces of Evil who looked exactly like Miguel.
Miguel is a slender 12-year-old (later 13) young boy with tan skin, black hair, brown eyes, and a mole below his nose, and a dimple on only one side of his mouth. He wears a red hooded jacket with white stripes over a white tank top, blue jeans with cuffs, and black shoes. When looking for Ernesto in the Land of the Dead, he gets his face painted like a skeleton in black and white shoe polish by Héctor in order to blend in, which later washes away after he accidentally falls into Ernesto's pool, near the end of the movie, he loses his hoodie and replaced his tank top with a white short-sleeved dress shirt, and the rest of his outfit remains unchanged, and later gets a red and yellow Mariachi outfit when playing Proud Corazón.
Miguel has an ear for music and is a fast learner, as he had taught himself how to play a guitar by watching one of Ernesto's old films with the guitar that he had built. Indicating a skill for craftsmanship, as he had made it himself and to make it look like his great-great-grandfather's guitar. Miguel's ear of music also helps him to possess a good singing voice, which he may have learned from listening to Ernesto and other musicians singing in the plaza, it is very likely that he had inherited music skills from Héctor. Miguel is also fast on his feet, as he was able to outrun and escape from Pepita's "hunt" for him.
Role in the film
- “Sometimes I think I'm cursed 'cause of something that happened before I was even born.”
- ―Miguel, opening narration
Among the rest of the Rivera family, Miguel stands out by his love and passion for music. However, because of the generation-spanning taboo his family has towards music, he must keep this side of himself hidden. The only ones who are aware of his passion are his elderly great-grandmother Mamá Coco and his dog Dante. At the beginning of the film, Miguel is encouraged to play music by a mariachi only for the mariachi to get scared away by Abuelita, but not before informing him of a music contest being held on Día de Los Muertos. Though Miguel inquires about the family's past that motivated his great-great-grandmother to ban music, Abuelita refuses to talk anymore about the subject on Miguel's great-great-grandfather.
In his hideout, Miguel has a shrine dedicated to his musical idol Ernesto de la Cruz. Viewing the films while perfecting his makeshift guitar, the voice of Ernesto inspires Miguel to follow his dreams. On his way to the contest, Miguel narrowly evades Abuelita and his parents from finding his guitar just as Abuelita declares him ready to join the family's shoemaker business. Miguel feigns excitement to get Abuelita and his parents to leave. But right after, Dante causes the ofrenda to shake, where the photo of Miguel's great-great-grandparents falls off and shatters. After Miguel notices in the picture that his great-great-grandfather holding the guitar of Ernesto de la Cruz, he surmises that Ernesto is his great-great-grandfather and decides to enter the contest to become a musician. Announcing this to the Rivera household, Miguel's family tries to convince him to give up the idea, fearing such a dream would lead Miguel to end up like his great-great-grandfather. Abuelita confronts him personally to make him choose between family and his dream; when their lack of support cause Miguel to still stands firm for music, Abuelita angrily destroys his guitar, despite his and even the rest of the family's objections.
Heartbroken by the destruction of his homemade guitar and his family not accepting his love for music, Miguel runs away and decides to enter the contest. However, since he needs an instrument to enter, he (reluctantly) enters de la Cruz's mausoleum and takes the guitar. Alone with the guitar, Miguel apologizes to Ernesto and explains his reasons for taking the instrument. Before heading out, he gives the guitar a strum. This causes marigold petals surrounding him to light up, and Miguel overhears people coming to the mausoleum. Miguel tries to come clean, but he discovers that he can't interact with the living people. As Miguel begins to panic, he sees several deceased spirits moving around the cemetery.
Fearing his situation, Miguel is suddenly greeted by Dante, who somehow still sees him. Dante then runs off and leads Miguel to the deceased members of his family. They understand Miguel's situation and take him to the Land of the Dead to help him. At the Grand Central Station, Miguel meets his great-great-grandmother Imelda, who is unable to cross over due to Miguel knocking off her picture on the ofrenda. The family learns that Miguel has a curse placed on himself for stealing the items of the deceased, which has turned him into an incomplete spirit. If Miguel is still in the land after sunrise, he will become a spirit and remain trapped in the land forever. When they learn that to break the curse a member of his family must give him their blessing, Imelda tells him she will give him her blessing if he gives up music. Miguel reluctantly agrees and is immediately transported back into Ernesto's mausoleum. Spotting the guitar back on its hooks, Miguel attempts to take it only to return to the Land of the Dead two seconds later for breaking his promise. Imelda demands that he adhere to her wishes, but Miguel refuses and runs off to seek his great-great-grandfather instead, believing him to be de la Cruz.
He enlists Héctor's help after he hears that he knows de la Cruz. Héctor agrees to help him if he puts his picture on an ofrenda when he gets home to which Miguel agrees. To help blend Miguel in, Héctor disguises Miguel as a skeleton with face paint, and they head off to find de la Cruz. Héctor gets them access to Frida Kahlo's studio, where he believes de la Cruz to be rehearsing for his Sunrise Spectacular. While Héctor is getting chewed out by a seamstress for losing her dress that he used in his failed attempt to cross the bridge, Miguel ends up following Dante as he wanders off further into the studio, where he meets Frida herself, offering some helpful musical tips for Ernesto's performance. After getting complimented for having the heart of an artist, Miguel is disappointed to learn that de la Cruz is actually hosting a party at his palace, leading him to doubt whether Héctor was actually friends with him. Héctor is soon recognized by Frida's musicians, who begin mocking him for apparently dying of food poisoning. The pair soon learns that in lieu of an invitation to Ernesto's party, they have to enter a music competition in Plaza de la Cruz where the winner will get to meet de la Cruz.
Needing a guitar to compete, Héctor takes Miguel and Dante to a shantytown where spirits who are being forgotten live to seek a guitar from Chicharrón. Chicharrón asks Héctor to play "Everyone Knows Juanita". Héctor does so, altering one of the lyrics as there are children (Miguel) present. Afterward, Chicharrón fades away. Héctor explains to Miguel that unless a spirit has a living relative to remember them and pass on their story, that spirit passes on into the Final Death, the same fate that will await Héctor if Miguel doesn't take his photo home.
As they take a trolley to Plaza de la Cruz, Miguel asks why Héctor never revealed he is a musician himself when he claimed to hate musicians back at Frida's studio. Héctor claims to have mentored Ernesto and that Ernesto has no talent to compose songs of his own, though Miguel doesn't believe him. As they enter the contest, Miguel's first thought was to sing "Remember Me", to which Héctor object as it is too popular, as evidenced by other contestants rehearsing around them, so Miguel decides to settle on "Un Poco Loco". However, during the contest, the deceased Riveras show up. Héctor confronts Miguel about this as he lied about Ernesto being his only family and attempts to return him to his family. This makes Miguel ditch Héctor and Dante to go find Ernesto himself. Miguel escapes Imelda and her alebrije Pepita by running into an alleyway, and Imelda tries to stop him by revealing that she didn't ban music because she hated music, but because she loved her family more and wanted to raise her daughter Coco. However, Miguel isn't moved and continues toward Ernesto's mansion, feeling that Imelda still won't support his love for music. After the winners of the contest get him inside, Miguel gets his idol's attention by singing a song. He tells Ernesto he's his great-great-grandson, and they start bonding. Ernesto offers Miguel as the guest of honor to his Sunrise Spectacular, but the latter explains that he needs his blessing to go home before sunrise. Ernesto agrees, but before he can give it, Héctor shows up to remind Miguel of their deal.
Recognized by Ernesto, Héctor bitterly reveals that he wrote all the songs Ernesto is famous for singing. Miguel realizes Héctor was telling the truth that he and Ernesto worked together in the past and wonders why Ernesto never credited Héctor. As Héctor tries to negotiate with Ernesto, he mentions that once said the latter said he would move heaven and earth for him during a toast. Miguel then points to one of de la Cruz's films where the villain, Don Hidalgo, says the same line while poisoning Ernesto's character. Seeing this, Héctor remembers his last night alive out, recounting the events before his death aloud and suddenly accuses Ernesto of poisoning him with their farewell toast. He attacks him in a fit of rage before Ernesto's guards take him away. Resuming the blessing, Ernesto asks a shocked Miguel if he believes what Héctor said. Miguel tries to assure him he doesn't, but the tone in his voice alerts Ernesto to the doubt in Miguel's mind. Not wanting to risk this in the Land of the Living, Ernesto tells his guards to take Miguel away too. Miguel protests that he's his family to which Ernesto coolly says that Héctor was his best friend. Miguel comes to the horrifying realization that Héctor was right to which Ernesto tells him one must be willing to do what it takes to seize their moment.
Ernesto's guards throw Miguel in a cenote. Finding Héctor in there with him, a horrified Miguel rambles his guilt for severing ties with his family to become like his fraudulent idol because he didn't listen to them. While Héctor comforts him, the skeleton starts fading because his daughter Coco is forgetting him. Learning this and showing him the torn photo, Miguel realizes that Héctor was actually his great-great-grandfather all along and that he was the original owner of his idol's famous guitar and the authentic songwriter of all songs and that made Ernesto famous, prompting Miguel to tell Héctor that he should have been in Ernesto's place. Hector tells Miguel that "Remember Me" was not for the world, it was out of love for his daughter. Miguel cheers Hector up by pointing out that music is what them both different from the rest of the family and shouts that he's proud that they are family. Later, they are soon saved by Dante, Pepita, and Imelda. Miguel then realizes that Dante is his spirit guide, which allows Dante to assume his true alebrije form. After regrouping with the rest of the family, Miguel tells Imelda the truth of Héctor's departure and is finally willing to take her blessing, no music, for the sake of Héctor and the rest of the family if they retrieve Héctor's photo so he can see Coco again. While Imelda still holds hostility, she and the other Riveras agree to help when Coco starts losing her memory of Héctor.
Together, they infiltrate Ernesto's concert to get Héctor's photo back and send Miguel home with it before it's too late. After Imelda gets the photo back after a forced duet with de la Cruz, Imelda and Héctor slowly start to reconcile and prepare to send Miguel back with the photo with new conditions, however, Ernesto interrupts the blessing to kill Miguel. The deceased Riveras plead with Ernesto to see reason and let Miguel go home, but Ernesto is too fixated on remaining famous to let Miguel live. Miguel calls Ernesto a coward to which Ernesto retorts that he's the greatest musician. Miguel denounces Ernesto as a fraud who murdered Héctor(the true musician), and stole his songs leaving him forgotten, but Ernesto shamelessly defends his actions by declaring that he will do anything what he must do to remain famous. He ultimately then throws Miguel from the building to his death. Dante tries to save Miguel from plummeting, but Miguel is too heavy, and Héctor's photo slips away from Miguel mid-fall. Fortunately, Miguel is saved by Pepita at the last minute, while Ernesto's crimes are exposed to the Land of the Dead (thanks to Miguel's aunts who secretly recorded his confession). Once Pepita brings Miguel safely back to his late family, she proceeds to give Ernesto a fitting punishment for how he tore the Rivera family apart years ago. At that moment, sunrise approaches as Miguel nearly completes his transformation to a spirit. Although Imelda implores Miguel to take the blessing (completely devoid of conditions), Miguel refuses to leave Héctor as the latter nears the Final Death, but she forces him to accept their blessing in order to save him and Coco before Miguel promises to Héctor that he won't let Coco forget him.
Awakening back in Ernesto's mausoleum, Miguel, with Héctor's guitar in hand, immediately runs back home. Once home, Miguel finds Mamá Coco catatonic, having lost most of her memory. Heartbroken to see his great-grandmother in this state and his great-great-grandfather's impending fate in death, Miguel breaks down towards his parents and embraces them. Suddenly, he remembers Héctor's guitar and helps Mamá Coco remember Héctor by singing "Remember Me" to her. The song restores Coco's memories, and she reveals the truth of her father to the family, as they soon realized that they were a little hard on Miguel and they reconcile with him.
One year later, the living Riveras have welcomed Héctor back in the family along with music, having been told the truth of him by Miguel and Coco. Miguel also has a new baby sister named Socorro, named after their now-deceased Mamá Coco. The film ends with Miguel, dressed as a mariachi, singing "Proud Corazón" with his elder cousins while his ancestors proudly watch as his father and uncle lift him on their shoulders.
In Coco-inspired shows featured at Disneyland Paris, Epcot, and Disney California Adventure, Miguel had not yet appeared as a typical walkaround mascot character, but as a bunraku style puppet that "plays guitar" alongside live musical entertainers. Later on, he appeared in his live form in Disney on Ice shows.
- Miguel is Pixar's first human protagonist for a full-length feature film not to be Caucasian.
- Imelda refers to Miguel as her grandson in the scene where the Riveras confront Ernesto outside his room, but Miguel is her great-great grandson. While she may have simply said it as a shortcut, the generation gap between one's great-great grandchildren and one's grandchildren is too long to be considered as such.
- The first spirit that Miguel encountered may be a reference to La Calavera Catrina.
- Miguel's shoe size is size 7½ in Mexico, or 9 US.
- According to Miguel's footprints and his late relatives, his right foot is pronated. It remains unknown whether the same applies to his left foot.
- The name "Miguel" is the Spanish variant of the English name "Michael", so in a way, Miguel's name in American tongue would be "Michael Rivera".
- "Proud Corazón" was written by Miguel.
- Miguel gets his love for music from his great-grandmother (who manifested it) and great-great-grandparents. In the novelization, it's stated he has his great-great-grandmother's stubborn nature and looks just like his great-grandfather when he was a young boy.
- Miguel resembles Héctor as he has the same bangs, a beauty mark, and dimple on one side of his cheek.
- Lema, Michelle (June 6, 2017). "Meet the Characters and Voice Cast of Disney Pixar's Coco and See the Beautiful New Poster" (Blog). Oh My Disney.
- Robinson, Tasha (November 22, 2017). "Pixar’s Lee Unkrich on the 'anxiety' of directing Coco" (Article). The Verge.
- Unkrich, Lee (December 14, 2017). "Miguel's design was inspired by two real-life kids: Emilio Fuentes, who provided the original scratch voice for Miguel while we were developing the story, and Adriel Arriaga, the son of character designer @rrr_yaga. #AskAboutPixarCoco" (Tweet). Twitter.
- Unkrich, Lee (April 22, 2018). "Miguel wrote it himself! (reply to @ezgoo I believe this song was originally written for the movie itself. So It wasn’t sung by anyone before the movie was being made)" (Tweet). Twitter.