Elena Rivera, though addressed as Abuelita (Spanish for "Granny"), is a supporting character in the Pixar's 19th full-length animated feature film, Coco. She is Miguel's grandmother, acting as a protective parental figure to him. Even though she and her grandson have different views of music, they nonetheless have a loving relationship.
Elena Rivera, better known as Abelita to her family, is the loving and overprotective matriarch of the Riveras and strictly enforces the ban against music set by her grandmother, Imelda, to the point that she disallows any kind of musical expression made by anyone in her family, like whistling, tapping one's toe, or even making a rhthym.
Abuelita sincerely loves her family, dotes on her grandchildren, and is protective of them, although she is an imposing woman who enforces her rules and decisions with no tolerance or patience for anything that she disproves of, especially music.
This puts her in constant friction with her grandson, Miguel due to the boy's love of music despite the family ban against it. She strives to keep her family together, seen by her decision to teach Miguel the family business of shoemaking, and is deaf to their own wants and desires (as she was unwilling, to see that it wasn't what Miguel wanted), having a very narrow-minded view of family values and is so deeply set into tradition that she was unwilling to compromise her views or rules.
When Miguel announced his intention to become a musician and made a derisive remark of the family ofrenda, Abuelita set a very bad example by her decision to destroy Miguel's guitar, believing that doing so would resolve the problem and shamelessly tried to comfort Miguel, only to drive him away in tears.
A part of Abuelita's abrasive character comes from her love and concern for her mother, Mama Coco, whose deteriorating mind made it difficult for the eldest Rivera to recognize her own daughter, deeply depressing Abuelita.
It was after her son, Enrique, convinced Abuelita to let Miguel play a song to Mama Coco, who was restored some of her lucidity and even able to recognize her daughter, that Abuelita finally changed and reconcile with her grandson and lifted the ban against music. In doing so, Abuelita realized that Miguel's love of music had brought their family closer than ever before.
Role in the Film
Abuelita first appears during the opening narration, remarking on how thin her grandson is and insistently plying him with more tamales. Miguel remarks that she runs the household exactly like her late grandmother Imelda, particularly the music ban to extreme degrees as she confiscates a bottle he was playfully making music with, shuts a window as a Pizza Planet truck goes past playing music, and suddenly bursting out of the courtyard to scream "No music!" at a trio of drunken singing men who happened to be passing, terrifying them all into fleeing.
While getting supplies with her son Berto and her granddaughter Rosa at the plaza, Abuelita catches Miguel being offered to play a mariachi's guitar. Abuelita threatens the mariachi with her chancla and scares him off. Abuelita drags Miguel back home (while shooing away Dante by lobbing her slipper at him, which she then has Miguel go fetch) and she informs his parents of his activities. Abuelita takes him to the family's ofrenda where her mother Mamá Coco is, hoping to dissuade Miguel from the talent show. Abuelita enlightens Miguel the importance of their family on Día de Los Muertos, especially putting up the photos on the ofrenda. When Miguel brings up Coco's father (who Abuelita fiercely demands not to be mentioned), Coco suddenly gets upset, Abuelita comforts her mother; however, Coco is unable to recognize Abuelita to her visible sorrow. Miguel runs off while this happens which frustrates Abuelita. Looking at the picture of her grandmother Imelda for inspiration, Abuelita decides it is finally time to bring Miguel into the family business.
At sunset, Abuelita declares the official beginning of Día de Los Muertos and the family prepares for the celebration. She, her son Enrique, and daughter-in-law Luisa proudly invoke Miguel to work in the workshop, which concludes with her smothering him. After this, however, she and the rest of the family witness Miguel announcing that he has discovered his great-great-grandfather (believed to be Ernesto de la Cruz) and aspires to become a musician like him. Uncovering Miguel's secret stash of music memorabilia causes Abuelita to fear Miguel will abandon his family if he chooses this path. Abuelita pressures her grandson to pick a side; their lack of support causes Miguel to angrily deride his family's traditions, shocking Abuelita. Believing the guitar to be responsible for this attitude, Abuelita destroys it by smashing it against the ground despite the protests of Miguel and even the rest of the family. Abuelita then tries to comfort Miguel, but Miguel, completely broken, shouts that he doesn't want to be part of the family anymore and runs off. Elena realizes she went too far and the family spends the entire night looking frantically for him.
The next morning, Miguel returns to the Rivera residence. Abuelita catches him with a guitar in hand, but Miguel darts into Coco's room before she can confiscate it. Abuelita and the rest of the family unlock the door to find Miguel with a catatonic Coco. Pushing Miguel aside, Abuelita comforts her mother trying to get her to respond to no avail. Being too blind to understand Miguel was trying to help Coco, she strictly tells Miguel to apologize to her. Having failed to help her, Miguel moves up to Coco and plays her a song her father wanted her to hear one more time. Abuelita attempts to stop him but is held back by Enrique, who urges her to let Miguel play as a way to cope. As the family watches Miguel perform "Remember Me" with Coco, Abuelita is surprised and moved to tears when the song restores her mother's lucidity. When Coco, having recognized her daughter Elena, asks her what is wrong, Abuelita tearfully responds that nothing is. Mamá Coco, inspired by the song, reveals her father's identity as Héctor. Abuelita then listens with joy as her mother begins to tell stories of Héctor and apologizes to Miguel, who forgives her for doubting him. After hearing the stories and what really happened to Héctor, she and the rest of the family decide to renounce the ban on music for good.
One year later, on the next Día de Los Muertos, Abuelita comes by the ofrenda to put up a photo of Mamá Coco (who passed away some time before) while Miguel explains its photos to his newborn sister Socorro. Abuelita puts up her mother's photograph with some difficulty, showing that she still misses her, but is happy that Miguel now sees the importance in family and ofrendas. The family had also revealed in Héctor's letters to Coco evidence of Ernesto de la Cruz's crimes, destroying the latter's legacy. While setting up the festivities, Abuelita greets Dante with a treat, having apparently warmed up to him. She then proudly watches her three older grandchildren perform a song for their living and dead family members as her mother's spirit stands next to her.
Abuelita's habit of using her footwear as a weapon is a trait she inherited from her late grandmother. In real life, this is a common practice among Mexican matriarchs. Also, given their interactions with Miguel and Coco respectively, the way she embraces is similar to her late grandfather.
In the novelization, Abuelita states she and Franco fell in love after she made him shoes he never got blisters. Her former hatred of music was not only because of Imelda's legacy but likely because of when her mother had a dancing accident which hurt her badly, terrifying her and her older sister Victoria (whom she, Coco and Julio outlived).