Vivo Review: A hidden Lin-Manuel Miranda musical animated adventure gem…on Netflix
Throughout this year, Sony has been pushing its animated features off to Netflix in order to survive the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, but it hasn’t been the most beneficial. Thus far, The Mitchells vs. the Machines, legitimately one of the best films of the year, and The Wish Dragon went onto Netflix with barely a peep and Vivo, a new musical adventure featuring music from Lin-Manuel Miranda, has suffered the same fate. It’s an odd blunder by Sony and Netflix considering their animated films have had a good track record lately and a damn shame because Vivo is really good.
The film follows a lively kinkajou named Vivo (voiced by Miranda) who loves his life in Havana, Cuba singing in the streets everyday alongside his owner Andres (voiced by Juan de Marcos Gonzalez). However, their seemingly perfect life is altered when Andres receives a letter from a former musical partner named Marta (voiced by Gloria Estefan) whom he secretly loves. Andres sees this as an opportunity to finally tell her how he feels through a song he wrote but never sang to her but is robbed of the opportunity as he dies in his sleep. With the tragic and sudden loss of his dearest friend, Vivo sets out to give the song to Marta in honor of Andres.
Vivo’s story instantly tugs at your heart with how it introduces us to the central companionship between Andres and Vivo. The film’s opening number is so energetic and showcases their love for music. The voice work from Miranda and de Marcos Gonzalez is fantastic and creates this believable bond between the two. The film mixes Cuban music influences with Miranda’s iconic musical rapping to create this unique sound and flow. There’s a strong establishment of the impact and importance of love as everyone in the community rallies around Andres to see his dream come true. Even the song that Andres has before his untimely demise creates this fantastical yet relatable view of love that’s beautifully animated.
Sony Animation has been absolutely killing it lately with its blend of 2-D and 3-D animation and Vivo excellently continues this trend. There are some musical sequences that greatly stand out simply because of how there are these 2-D visuals added in to boost the atmosphere and the overall impact of the music. The scene of Andres telling Vivo how much seeing Marta again will mean to him is heavily elevated with the bright, colorful 2-D animation that goes along with it.
Along with the animation, the music equally elevates the storytelling and is just a blast to listen to. Miranda and composer Alex Lacamoire really give it their all in giving Vivo a lively and heartfelt soundtrack that not only adds deeper meaning to Vivo’s journey but is also really fun. Even though I’m a little tapped out on Miranda’s musical style, mostly with the rapping, it’s really enjoyable to listen to here and gives the musical sequences great flow and energy. All the songs really mix together well, and hearing Andres’ song sung by Estefan is a truly can’t miss moment and the perfect endcap to this adventure. There are even moments where Vivo’s musical street singing is mixed with a partner he gains in the form of Andres’ niece Gabi (voiced by Ynairaly Simo), who has a more modern, American hip-hop style, to create a nice cultural, generational blend.
Some of Vivo’s strongest moments are seen right from the start and that for sure includes the story. Just as you nuzzle into the caring and compassionate relationship of Andres and Vivo, the film throws an emotional dagger at your heart that hits hard with his sudden passing. The way the community honors his death in the central plaza is genuinely beautiful and it’s an unexpected start that drives Vivo forward well. It’s a personal motivation for him that’s easy to love and connects well with Gabi as she misses her late father. It’s something that bonds Gabi and Vivo well and makes their journey to fulfill Andres’ final wish full of rich emotion and genuine love.
However, not all Vivo’s story elements work and outside of the main journey thread, there isn’t much more to the film. There’s this whole venture into a bayou that feels like an excuse to extend the plot since none of the characters Vivo comes across add anything to the story aside from a couple laughs and minimal thrills. The “conflict” between Gabi and Vivo is a little bland as well since it doesn’t really go anywhere and feels like a missed opportunity to really explore the cultural and generational differences between them outside of song. Also, the film really emphasizes Gabi being different from other girls her age and from other people around her but doesn’t do much with it. There are no discernable themes that come from it or moments that stand out outside of a really rad song she has called “My Own Drum.”
Vivo might not have the deepest story or fulfill its thematic potential, but it’s a really great musical adventure that delivers some strong work from Miranda and Sony Animation for their continually ambitious animation. Although many might not know about it, Vivo is just waiting to be seen on Netflix and is definitely worth it.