It’s Christmastime in Arendelle, and nobody is more excited than Olaf (Josh Gad). This will be the first Christmas that Anna (Kristen Bell) and Elsa (Idina Menzel) have celebrated together since their parents’ death. They put on a celebration for the kingdom, but all the citizens leave once the sisters sing their song to go home and do their own holiday traditions. Disappointed, they try to figure out what kind of traditions they can put on, so Olaf takes Sven with him into town to find the perfect tradition for Anna and Elsa.
Olaf knocks on every door and talks to every family to get a sense of what they do in their house for the holidays. He is given a souvenir from each family to bring back to the castle. Oaken (Chris Williams) gives Olaf a sauna, which drops a hot coal and sets fire to Olaf's gifts and the sled. Olaf and Sven try to salvage it, but the sled falls off a cliff. All that's left is a piece of fruitcake, and Olaf takes it into a cave where he gets chased by wolves. Olaf gets away but the fruitcake is snatched up by a hawk.
Sven goes to get help from Kristoff (Jonathan Groff) who is making a troll stew based on his tradition from living with the trolls. Sven tries to act it out for him but Kristoff doesn't get it until Anna and Elsa see and round up the whole town to help search for Olaf. They find him in the woods, feeling sad that he failed to get them a tradition. Anna then pulls out a box she and Elsa found when they were in their attic looking for traditions. The box contains cards and other crafts made by Anna for Elsa, and all of them feature Olaf. Since they first made him as kids, Anna used Olaf to keep some happiness during their holidays. Elsa tells Olaf that he was always their tradition. The gang returns to the castle with the whole kingdom to put on their celebration...and then the hawk drops the fruitcake on Olaf's head, which he calls a "Christmas miracle."
In Mexico, a young boy named Miguel Rivera (Anthony Gonzalez) tells a story about why he thinks his family is cursed. His great-great grandmother, Mama Imelda (Alanna Ubach) was in love with a talented musician, but he left the family to pursue his dream, leaving Imelda to take care of their daughter by herself. Not willing to be brought down, Imelda forbade music from her family and started a tradition of making shoes, which has been carried on to the present day.
Miguel lives with his Mama (Sofia Espinosa) and Papa (Jaime Camil), as well as his aunts and uncles, and his Abuelita Elena (Renee Victor) and her mother, Mama Coco (Ana Ofelia Murguia), who was Imelda's daughter. Elena carried on the music ban in the family for anger that her grandfather left her mother and grandmother. Miguel loves music and he aspires to be a musician. His idol is Ernesto De La Cruz (Benjamin Bratt), a famous singer/guitar player who followed his dream when he started from nothing. Ernesto was performing his big hit "Remember Me" and was tragically killed when a bell fell on top of him.
Miguel was telling the story to a mariachi player, who tells him there is a music competition in town for Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), which would give Miguel the chance to show everyone his talent. The mariachi man gives Miguel his guitar to try out, but Abuelita comes in angrily and sends the player away for trying to let Miguel play.
During the Dia de los Muertos celebration, a street dog that Miguel named Dante goes by la ofrenda (the offering) that the family leaves for their ancestors. Miguel tries to pull Dante away, and they accidentally break the photo of Mama Imelda with a young Coco, and Imelda's husband whose face is ripped out. Miguel picks the picture up and sees it is folded. The man in the picture is holding the exact same guitar owned by Ernesto, leading Miguel to believe he is Ernesto's great-great grandson.
Miguel goes to his secret hiding spot to get his guitar for the competition, but the family has found it and all of his De La Cruz memorabilia. Abuelita destroys Miguel's guitar, driving him away in tears and declaring he doesn't want any part in the ofrenda or the family. He runs away into town and tries to participate in the competition, but he doesn't have his own instrument.
Miguel finds the tomb of Ernesto and sneaks in to try and take his guitar. Once he plays it, a light flashes. The guards outside notice that the guitar is missing. Miguel tries to defend himself, but the guards walk right through him. He runs outside and phases through everyone. Even his own parents can't see him. Only Dante can see and hear Miguel. The boy accidentally falls into an open grave and he is pulled out by a skeleton woman. Miguel sees multiple skeletons, all of them ancestors crossing from the Land of the Dead to take the ofrendas. Miguel then meets his own ancestors - Tia Rosita (Selene Luna), Papa Julio (Alfonso Arau), Tia Victoria (Dyana Ortelli), and twins Tio Oscar and Felipe (both played by Herbert Siguenza). They recognize Miguel just as they find out Mama Imelda cannot cross over. They take Miguel to meet her so she can fix things.
Miguel and his family cross the bridge of petals as the other ancestors are crossing over. As they arrive in the Land of the Dead, a skeleton named Hector (Gael Garcia Bernal) is attempting to cross over dressed as Frida Kahlo, but nobody has his picture in their ofrenda, so he cannot pass. He tries to run off anyway, but he cannot walk on the bridge and is pulled back by security guards.
The Riveras find Imelda angrily trying to figure out why she can't cross over. They meet with a clerk (Gabriel Iglesias) as they figure out that Miguel kept Imelda's picture from the ofrenda, which is why she can't cross over. They also need to get Miguel back home before sunrise, or else he will be stuck there. The clerk says that Miguel can return with his picture if he gets his family's blessing. Imelda takes a petal and gives Miguel her blessing, but under the condition that he doesn't play music. Miguel reluctantly agrees and touches the petal, sending him back to Ernesto's tomb. He grabs the guitar again to run off to play, which immediately sends him back to the Land of the Dead. Since the rest of his family won't bless him unless he gives up music, he decides to go with Dante to find Ernesto and get his blessing. The family pursues him, and Imelda sends an Alebrije (spirit animal) named Pepita (a flying rainbow-colored tiger creature) to find Miguel.
Miguel meets Hector, who offers him help to find Ernesto, but Hector wants Miguel to bring his photo back and put it in the ofrenda so that he may cross over. Miguel agrees and they go off with Miguel in disguise as a skeleton to avoid detection. Hector tells Miguel that Ernesto always holds a Sunrise Spectacular show, and there is a competition held for the best musician to meet Ernesto. They find the location, and Miguel stumbles upon a rehearsal for an art show held by the real Frida Kahlo (Natalia Cordova-Buckley). Miguel inspires her to add music to her piece, which she loves. The other musicians then recognize Hector and mock him because he apparently died from choking on a chorizo (sausage), which is why "Chorizo" is his nickname. Hector expresses his hatred for musicians, but since Miguel needs a guitar for the show, Hector begrudingly admits he knows a guy.
Hector brings Miguel to meet Chicharron (Edward James Olmos), a friend of Hector's who was once a musician. Chicharron is fading away, and he is unable to move from his hammock. Hector asks for Chicharron's guitar, but only after Hector plays a song. He plays Chicharron's favorite song before the guy disappears for good. Hector explains to Miguel that this is the "Final Death", as there is nobody left in the living world that remembered Chicharron.
Miguel and Hector make it to the competition. Miguel wants to play "Remember Me", but Hector points out it is TOO popular. Miguel goes up with the guitar after Hector encourages him, and he sings the song "Poco Loco", with Hector joining him. The crowd loves them, but Miguel's family is close by. It is announced that a living boy is there, and that his family is looking for him. Hector gets mad because Miguel lied earlier and said Ernesto was the only family he had there, and that he could have gotten him back at any time. Miguel runs off the Ernesto's plaza himself and ditches Hector and Dante. Imelda spots Miguel running and goes after him. When he brings up her hatred of music, Imelda starts to sing with a beautiful voice. Miguel continues to walk away.
Miguel makes it to Ernesto's plaza. He performs a song for Ernesto's guests and is spotted by the man himself. Miguel tells him he is his great-great grandson, and the two spend the afternoon bonding. Miguel asks Ernesto about why he left his family to pursue music, and Ernesto says we cannot deny who we were meant to be. Before he can give Miguel his blessing, Hector shows up in his Frida disguise to stop Ernesto. It is revealed that the two of them knew each other because they performed together. Ernesto claims he lost Hector and said he would have "moved Heaven and Earth" to find him. Miguel notices that it mimics a speech from one of Ernesto's films where the villain tries to poison Ernesto's hero. In a flashback, we learn that Hector wanted to abandon music to return to his family, but Ernesto wanted to keep it going. He gave Hector a drink that was really poisoned, and after it killed Hector, Ernesto stole all the music Hector wrote and took credit for it. Ernesto gets his guards to throw Miguel and Hector into a pit.
Down in the pit, Miguel expresses regret for abandoning his family and for idolizing a murdering fraud. Hector says he only wanted to cross the bridge to see his daughter...Coco. That means HECTOR was Miguel's great-great grandfather. He even tells Miguel that he wrote "Remember Me" just for Coco. A flashback shows the two of them singing together. Moments later, Dante and Pepita arrive with Imelda, and they pull Miguel and Hector out. Dante turns out to have been an Alebrije the whole time, as he grows wings and becomes colorful. The family is set to bring Miguel home, but he wants to find Ernesto to get the photo of Hector that he took. Imelda is reluctant to help as she still feels Hector abandoned her, but she agrees to help.
The family makes it into Ernesto's show and they find him backstage. They swipe the picture from him, but Imelda is brought up to the stage. She starts to sing with Hector playing music for her. The audience loves her, but Ernesto tries to get them. Imelda blesses Miguel without conditions, but Ernesto grabs him and takes him toward the edge of the roof. Miguel's aunts turn the cameras on Ernesto to show him try to kill Miguel and admit to being a fraud who killed his best friend. He throws Miguel off the roof, causing him to lose Hector's picture, but Pepita swoops down and rescues him. Ernesto goes back out to the crowd expecting applause, but they saw the whole thing and have turned on him. Pepita emerges and carries Ernesto away, throwing him toward a tower where a bell falls on him.
The sun starts to rise. Hector gets closer to fading away while Miguel becomes more skeletal. Imelda blesses him again and sends him home. Miguel is back in the tomb, and he takes the guitar and runs to find Coco, ignoring his family's protests. Miguel tearfully starts to play "Remember Me", which starts to bring Coco's memory back. The rest of the family sees this, and even Abuelita is moved to tears. Coco then pulls out the picture of Hector that was ripped from the ofrenda. She also pulls out letters and lyrics that he wrote for her, which she kept through the years.
One year later, it is Dia de los Muertos again. Coco has passed on, and her picture is put in the ofrenda. Miguel has a new baby sister, and he tells her the story of his family. A museum has opened up honoring Hector's music, while Ernesto's tomb is condemned, and he will be forgotten. Dante and Pepita take on normal forms as a dog and cat to remain in the living world. In the Land of the Dead, we see Hector and Imelda crossing the bridge together with Coco. Miguel's ancestors arrive in time to see him playing a guitar and singing a song for the crowd, making his whole family proud.
*CUT TO THE CHASE*
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Miguel Rivera is a young boy living in Mexico who dreams of being a musician, but his family forbids music being played because his great-great grandfather left the family to pursue his own dream of being a musician.
Miguel believes his idol, the beloved musician Ernesto De La Cruz, was his great-great grandfather, and he is transported to the Land of the Dead when he tries to steal Ernesto's guitar from his tomb. Miguel meets his ancestors, plus a trickster named Hector who wants Miguel to bring a photo of him back to the living world so that he may be remembered on the Day of the Dead.
After they find Ernesto, it turns out he was a fraud who killed Hector (his best friend) and stole the music that Hector wrote, which made him popular. It is also revealed that Hector is Miguel's real great-great grandfather, as his daughter Coco (Miguel's great grandmother) was the only reason he wanted to cross back to the living world.
Miguel and his family expose Ernesto to the rest of the deceased, and he gets trapped under a bell, just as he died in life. He is to be forgotten by the living world once exposed. Hector starts to fade away because Coco cannot remember him, but Miguel is sent back in time to play the song "Remember Me", which Hector had written just for Coco.
A year later, Coco has passed on and rejoined her parents. Hector is remembered by more people when Miguel provides the old letters and songs Hector wrote that Coco kept. Miguel also finally gets to play music for his family.
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