Miguel Rivera (Anthony Gonzalez), 12, lives in a Mexican village. He comes from a family of shoemakers who hate music because decades earlier, Miguel’s great-great-grandfather abandoned his wife Imelda to follow his dream to be a performer. However, the boy idolizes late movie star/musician Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt). While watching Ernesto's old movies on television, talented Miguel plays along on his own guitar.
When Miguel discovers an link between himself and Ernesto, he accidentally enters the Land of the Dead, where he encounters the souls of his own Rivera ancestors. Along with his faithful dog, Dante, Miguel has to figure out how to navigate this strange alternate reality in order to earn his family’s blessing to play music — and return to the Land of the Living.