Netflix’s Animated Adventure Vivo has a strange origin story. Lin-Manuel Miranda originally screened the film at DreamWorks in 2010, before its Hamilton days. The project ended at Sony Animation, where it was accelerated and refined with Musical High School screenwriter Peter Barsocchini. Scheduled for a theatrical release in 2020, Vivo was eventually moved to 2021 and then sold to Netflix, where it’s finally available to stream.
Vivo comes from director Kirk DeMicco (The Croods), with music by Miranda and her longtime collaborator Alex Lacamorien (Hamilton and In the heights). And when the film delves into the music and the love story at its heart, it shines, evoking poignant emotions. But when filmmakers try to squeeze in the hijinks of wildlife, it falls into the all-too-familiar traps of the most cliched animated films for children.
[Ed. note: this review contains spoilers for Vivo.]
The film follows a kinkajou named Vivo (voiced by Lin-Manuel Miranda) who performs with musician Andrés (Juan de Marcos González) every day in a plaza in Cuba. When Andres’ lost love, Marta (Gloria Estefan), who left Cuba many years ago to become a famous musician, sends him a letter asking him to come to his last concert, he is determined to give him the song he wrote many years ago about her. Departure. But there is one important plot that Andrés cannot make the trip himself, or call or email to explain it. So Vivo has to make it to Miami with the song, even if that means teaming up with Andrés’s great-niece, the eccentric Gabi (Ynairaly Simo), who, much to Vivo’s dismay, is an aspiring musician who is not very good at music.
The movie’s biggest selling point is Lin-Manuel Miranda, both as a songwriter and as a vocal presence. But it does create a weird experience where Vivo raps about being hungry and disjointed on the streets, and it really feels like an animated version of a Hamilton exit. While the music is beautiful and certainly one of the highlights of the film, hearing Miranda’s nasal voice coming out of the adorable kinkajou is shocking. (It doesn’t help that Miranda has become a meme on TikTok, and for the very hip, he’s been associated with some stigma since many memes make fun of him.)
Miranda’s songwriting skills are always great, but the best part of Vivo occurs when music and animation work in tandem to uplift the story, playing with the visual style to emphasize the music, so that it all fits together into a beautiful symphony. Andrés sings his memories with Marta, and the film switches to a retro concert poster style, with bright color blocks and soft edges. When Gabi sings a hymn to shameless weirdness, it becomes a neon tech landscape. These moments are transcendent, testifying to both the strength of the music and the creativity of the animation production design.
But while these sequences shine at first, the middle of the film turns into a jaunt through the Everglades, with a subplot about Gabi trying to avoid the Girl Scouts of the Universe because she thinks they are. lame rule followers. (Also, they threaten to report Vivo to Animal Control.) There is a lot of talking animal hijacking, as Vivo and Gabi meander through the wetlands. They are separated at the start of their adventure, which only compounds the problem of this escapade’s dissociation from the overall history of music and long-lost future lovers. The middle of the film feels like two entirely separate storylines: one about a lost kinkajou encountering wild animals, and the other about a weird little girl who doesn’t want to fit in with others. Some emotional sons reinforce the overall story – like Gabi and her mother struggling to understand each other after Gabi’s father dies – but a random love story between two birds, for example, doesn’t add much. .
Fortunately, at the end of the film, the story returns to Marta and Andrés, and the final musical sequence is poignant. If much of the story centers around this romance and the power of music, Vivo would be a memorable experience, akin to the emotional power of Pixar coco, which also focuses on music, lost lovers and the next generation taking up the torch. Even with beautiful animated sequences and wonderful music, the film juggles too much shenanigans, damaging the most powerful story at hand. Still, the ending is reminiscent of what made the movie shine in the first place, tying it all together in a beautifully bittersweet finale.
Vivo is available on Netflix on August 6th.