Ernesto de la Cruz is the hidden main antagonist of the 2017 Pixar film Coco. He is a famous singer and musician who dazzled audience with his good looks and charm, and was a source of Mexican pride due to these and his strong morals along with his standing up for his fellow Mexicans. After his death from being crushed by a giant bell, he resides as a soul in the Land of the Dead. When Miguel Rivera ends up in this realm, he goes on a quest to locate Ernesto, believing the musician is his missing great-great-grandfather. However, Miguel uncovers a more shocking revelation to his heritage and idol than what he believed.
He was voiced by Benjamin Bratt.
At first glance, Ernesto presents himself as a charming, wise, grandfatherly, and sensible individual who encouraged others to follow their dreams no matter what, making him seem like a good role model.
However, it is later revealed that Ernesto was really nothing more than two-bit, selfish, and and an overambitious opportunist. He resorted to murdering his best friend Héctor, who wanted to go back home to his family, and stealing his songs to achieve fame and glory while not giving him any credit. After his untimely death, his murders were more darker. He would go to great lengths to preserve the great legacy he left behind in the Land of the Living, making him very paranoid. Ernesto even deemed Miguel, a living child who idolized him his whole life and supposedly related to him, as liability and made many attempts on the boy's life with no remorse or hesitation.
De la Cruz can also be a coward. He would call on his security guards to fight his own battles or do his dirty work. This was shown when Héctor, realizing he was actually murdered, got in a scuffle with him (despite their differing skeletal structures) and fled confrontation with the former, Miguel, and their family who had been informed of Héctor being murdered.
Ernesto is not completely evil as he saved Miguel from drowning in his pool without even knowing he was alive (the directors confirmed this was done out of genuine kindness). He even genuinely planned to give Miguel his blessing to return to the Land of the Living no strings attached.
Ernesto de la Cruz was a rising musician with his childhood friend Héctor as his songwriter. Months into their tour of Mexico, a homesick Héctor decided to return home. Ernesto desperately tried to change his mind, needing his friend's songs, but Héctor remained firm. Ernesto seemingly accepted his decision and sent Héctor off with a toast, stating "To our friendship. I would move heaven and earth for you, mi amigo". Going to the train station, Héctor suffered immense pain in his stomach and subsequently died as Ernesto had spiked his drink with poison. Seizing the opportunity, Ernesto stole Héctor's songbook and guitar to become a musical legend. Twenty-one years into his life of fame, Ernesto performed "Remember Me" in front of his fans. Finishing it on a high note, a distracted stagehand dropped a giant bell on him, killing him. His body was laid to rest in his own mausoleum in his and Héctor's hometown, Santa Cecilia. His spirit was sent to the Land of the Dead where he would entertain the residents (notably having a Sunrise Spectacular at the end of Dia de los Muertos) while hosting parties at his grand estate with an arsenal of security guards. He would leave behind a profound memory back in the Land of the Living, inspiring many musicians in Santa Cecilia, with the people leaving him with many offerings on Dia de los Muertos.
Seventy-five years later, Miguel Rivera dreams of becoming a musician, but cannot because of a family tiff between his great-great-grandparents. His great-great-grandfather was a musician who left to fulfill his dream to play for the world and never returned. Miguel's great-great-grandmother Imelda banned music in the family and turned to making shoes as a way to support the family. Even though she passed away, Miguel's abuelita still carries on the family business and taboo. The only relative who understands his musical desire is his elderly great-grandmother Coco.
On Día de los Muertos, Miguel tries to enter a talent show without his family's knowledge, but they decide to put him to work in the workshop. After Dante knocks off the torn photo of Imelda, her young daughter, and her faceless husband, Miguel finds a bent section of the photo that reveals his great-great grandfather had a guitar similar to Ernesto de la Cruz. When he announces this discovery, it causes a family argument with Abuelita, despite the family's protests, destroying Miguel's handmade guitar. Fed up with his family's hatred of music, Miguel heads to play in the talent show.
Needing an instrument, he heads to Ernesto's mausoleum and tries to use the guitar. This turns Miguel into an incomplete spirit. He meets his departed relatives, who take him to the Land of the Dead to solve this conundrum. Imelda is there and cannot cross the Marigold Bridge because Miguel had taken the photo when he ran away from home. A family blessing will return Miguel to the living and prevent him from becoming a spirit at sunrise, but Imelda only gives her blessing on the condition he no longer affiliates himself with anything musical. Miguel doesn't take this and runs off to find his great-great-grandfather who he still believes is Ernesto.
He and Dante meet Héctor, now a sneaky trickster who had a connection with de la Cruz in life, and they make a deal: if Miguel gets the musician's blessing, he'll put up Héctor's photo on an ofrenda when he gets home so he can cross the Marigold Bridge. They travel to Frida Kahlo's studio to where Ernesto will be rehearsing, but he is actually hosting a party at his mansion. They go to Shantytown (where the forgotten live) and get a guitar to perform in a music contest where the winner gets into de la Cruz's party. However, the late Riveras have tracked Miguel down with the help their spirit guide Pepita. Héctor realizes Miguel had other relatives and could have gone home sooner. He scolds the boy for leaving his family and tries to him return to them, but a hurt Miguel distracts him by discarding his photo. Miguel dismisses Dante, who tries to get him to go back too. Imelda soon cuts him off to make him take her blessing, but Miguel resists; telling his ancestor she's ruining his life by removing what makes him happy and leaves her heartbroken.
Arriving at the mansion, Miguel sneaks in with the help of the contest winners. He proclaims to Ernesto of their relation after the latter saves him from drowing in a pool. Ernesto is shocked and ecstatic about this and brags about it to many of his friends. Meanwhile, Héctor sneaks into the estate, dressed as Frida Kahlo. He interrupts as Miguel is just about to get a blessing. Héctor bitterly reveals that he wrote all Ernesto's famous songs while accusing his old friend leaving him to be forgotten. Miguel realizes Héctor was telling the truth that he and Ernesto did work together, questioning why his ancestor never credited Héctor. Héctor still tries to be civil in order to get across the bridge and see his unknown "girl" before he's forgotten, reminding that Ernesto said "[he] would move heaven and earth for [him]". Hearing this, Miguel directs Héctor to one of Ernesto's films where the villain tries to poison Ernesto's character while having a toast with the exact words. Seeng this, Héctor has a flashback of his last living moments and slowly realizes Ernesto murdered him with a poisoned drink. He's enraged his own friend not only took the credit but also ruined his attempt to go back home and attacks him, only to be restrained by security guards. Testing Miguel's loyalty, Ernesto questions if he believes Héctor's theory. Miguel denies, but Ernesto senses the doubt in the boy's voice and has him taken away as well while confiscating Héctor's photo.
Miguel, in a cenote with Hector, is heartbroken for not listening to his family's warning and discovering Ernesto's true nature. When Héctor starts fading, he reveals that his main motivation for wanting to cross the bridge was to see his daughter. Hearing that her name is Coco and that Héctor recognizes his torn family photo, they piece together that Héctor was the true great-great-grandfather all along. Imelda, Dante, and Pepita arrive to free them and the five return to to deceased Riveras, where Miguel reveals why Héctor didn't return. They sneak into the Sunrise Spectacular with Frida Kahlo's help to get Héctor's photo from de la Cruz before Coco forgets her father. Conveniently running into him, Imelda angrily slaps him twice for committing murder on her husband and trying again on her descendant. Ernesto is shocked that Héctor and Miguel are related, but flees when he sees that the angry family is after the photo he has stashed in his pocket.
He calls the security to deal with them and a fight ensues. Imelda bypasses and gets the photo, but accidentally ends up on the stage. To save her descendant's life, her husband's memory, and her daughter's lucidity, she sings "La Llorona". When his guards fail to capture Imelda, Ernesto takes matters into his own hands by coming onstage and making a duet with her in order to get the photo and the spotlight. Imelda stomps on his foot at the end of the song, escaping from his grasp with the photo.
Just when Miguel is about to go home, Ernesto yanks him away and shoves a protective Imelda to the floor. Héctor pleads for his great-great-grandson to be spared but Ernesto will not listen to reason, fearing the child will ruin his legacy if he returns to the realm of the living. Miguel calls his former idol a coward, stating the latter just murdered Héctor, the true musician and stole his songs. Ernesto defends his actions by stating that he's willing do whatever it takes to seize his moment before throwing Miguel to his death, much to the horror of the boy's late family.
Believing he's won, he cruelly apologizes to a weakened Héctor and smugly walks away to resume the performance. However, he's met not with cheers, but with scowls and jeers. Shrugging off the audience's negativity towards him, Ernesto tries to get the orchestra to start playing. They just stare at him in disgust, with the silent conductor snapping his baton without hesitation. He tries to solve the issues by singing "Remember Me", but it only causes him to pelted with produce, staining his designer clothes.
On the monitors, he sees Pepita rescued Miguel and comes to the realization that his confrontation with the family was recorded (thanks to his former friend's granddaughter Victoria and son-in-law's sister Rosita). He's displeased that he's lost all his fame and popularity, but that's interrupted when Pepita herself comes onstage to punish him for all the Riveras' grief and anguish that stem from his murder of Héctor to his corrupting influence on Miguel. She dangles him from her talons as he panics and tosses him in the air before sending him flying out of the coliseum where he smacks face-first into a giant bell. As he recovers, the impact causes the bell to fall on him, much to his horror. The audience cheers at his defeat.
Reconciling with his living family, Miguel tells them his discovery about Héctor's disappearance. Coco, having come to her senses, reveals she harbored letters Héctor sent her, which prove he wrote de la Cruz's songs, and the torn section of the family photo with his face. One year later, the living Riveras have used Héctor's photo and letters to expose Ernesto's treachery. The public who once cherished him now condemn de La Cruz as a disgrace for all his crimes against the Rivera family while Héctor is credited as a renowned songwriter as his descendants rightfully inherit his stolen guitar. On the mausoleum, a "FORGET YOU" sign hangs from his statue as the tomb now lies abandoned in a decayed state, thus leaving Ernesto de la Cruz's legacy permanently tarnished.
While he may still exist in the Land Of The Dead despite being crushed a second time, Ernesto's vile actions will now place him in rejection by both the living and the dead as his good name is now remembered in shame as a fraud, thief, and murderer.
- Ernesto is easily considered as one of the darkest and most evil of Pixar villains, alongside Syndrome, Lotso, Hopper, Sir Miles Axlerod, and Professor Zundapp.
- Ernesto is designed after famous Mexican actors and singers from the Golden Age of Mexican Cinema, in particular Jorge Negrete.
- The crossout of Ernesto's tomb at the end of the film was replaced by the "X" letter in the international versions. In the Spanish version, the word "OLVIDADO" (In Spanish, meaning Forgotten) is put on the wooden board.
- With the exception of "Remember Me" (which was sung by his original voice actor), Ernesto's singing voice is provided by Antonio Sol.