Pixar's newest animated film Coco is all about the music, beginning with Ernesto de la Cruz, the musical idol of the film's 12-year-old protagonist Miguel. Despite his pop star flair and style, though, Coco's Ernesto de la Cruz is not based on a real singer. This larger than life singer is a complete Coco original, which means he also sings a handful of original songs, too. That said, performances by Coco's star musician were heavily influenced by real Mexican stars, thanks to directors Lee Unkrich and Adrian Molina and a little help from YouTube videos. In addition to researching Mexican super stars, actor Benjamin Bratt also looked closer to home for inspiration, using his father as a model for Ernesto de la Cruz.
In Coco, Ernesto de la Cruz is a larger than life singer, one who has transcended death with his music. He is such an enchanting figure that Miguel makes his own personal shrine to him — not an easy character to play. To prepare to walk in Ernesto's intimidating shoes, Bratt watched YouTube videos of Mexican legends Pedro Infante and Jorge Negrete, at the suggestion of Unkrich and Molina. Both Infante and Negrete were Mexican superstars of the first half of the 20th century, hitting fame around the 1930s. Bratt described the singers as "gentlemen who were as well known for their beautiful singing ability as they were for their star-making roles in films" in an interview with ComingSoon.net, making them the perfect inspiration as De la Cruz was also a movie star in his day. Bratt added that he views Ernesto as the epitome of celebrity, saying, "This is a guy who, within the story of the film, who thrives on the adulation and attention that he gets. He's a true star in that sense."
Bratt didn't just look at Infante and Negrete for star power, however, he also examined their singing. Without any singing background, Bratt jumped head-first into learning the songs he would have to perform as Ernesto in Coco. "I've had a long-held desire to be a singer, but never believed that I had the ability to do so," he told ComingSoon.net. To prepare for the role, Bratt worked with voice coach Liz Kaplan, and the results are pretty undeniable. he even performed one of Ernesto's show-stopping songs at Disney's D23 Expo. "I recorded every song that's in the movie; I'm really proud of it," he told journalists at a press junket, via Hispana Global. Bratt sings two songs in the film, "Remember Me" and "Much Needed Advice," and is even featured on the official Coco soundtrack.
Bratt may have taken musical inspiration from Infante and Negrete, but the actor also took some things from closer to home, specifically his father's confidence. "I thought a lot about my own father, who was a completely different person from Ernesto de la Cruz, but someone who shared a similar animal magnetism, if you will, in his own life," Bratt told ComingSoon.net. The actor went on, adding that his father was "someone who walked into a room and just commanded attention, and just had swagger and confidence."
It makes sense that Bratt would look to his family for inspiration, after all Coco, like the Day of the Dead celebration it is inspired by, is all about connecting with family members, both living and dead. "Day of the Dead is never about saying goodbye. It's all about the importance and obligation to remember your loved ones and pass their stories along," Unkrich explained in an interview with Collider. In Coco, Miguel travels all the way to the Land of the Dead to hear the stories of his ancestors. And finding inspiration and comfort in your ancestors is just one of the film's many themes.