“Vivo” stars Lin-Manuel Miranda, Ynairaly Simo, Zoe Saldana, Juan de Marcos González, Michael Rooker, Brian Tyree Henry, Nicole Byer, and Gloria Estefan. Released on Netflix on August 6, 2021, the film is about a kinkajou that sets out to deliver a love letter.
The film was directed by Kirk DeMicco, who also directed "Space Chimps" and "The Croods". In some cases, it takes more than words to confess your feelings to someone. It takes a song and a singing kinkajou. Sony Pictures Animation is at it again this month with yet another animated feature on Netflix. Following "The Mitchells vs. the Machines" and "Wish Dragon", Sony and Netflix are going for three for three with a film that takes audiences from China to the toe-tapping world of Cuba. This time, with musical numbers. Since Sony already ripped off "Aladdin" with "Wish Dragon", they might as well rip off Disney's musical formula. That'll show them who's boss. This is the studio's first attempt at making an original, family-friendly musical since it's usually known for making some middle-tier full-length cartoons with famous pop songs playing in the background. This is also the latest project from Lin-Manuel Miranda, who voices the title character and writes the songs for the film. Seeing his name plastered on the marketing made this a guaranteed must-see for me. But was his presence enough to make it another win for Sony and Netflix? Let's find out.
The film tells the story of Vivo (Miranda), a kinkajou who, along with his owner Andrés Hernández (González), plays music in a plaza in Havana, Cuba. One day, Andrés receives a letter from his old friend Marta Sandoval (Estefan), informing him that she's retiring from her music career. The letter offers him an opportunity to reconnect and tell Marta how he feels about her through a song he wrote, much to the dismay of Vivo. When Andrés tragically passed away in his sleep, Vivo must help his friend one last time by traveling to Miami and delivering Andrés' song to Marta. During his journey, Vivo befriends a young girl named Gabi (Simo), who happens to be Andrés' grand-niece. It's pretty common for animation studios outside of Disney to make animated musicals to compete against the mouse. While some of their songs were either catchy or even good, they don't hold a candle to the most memorable and meaningful musical numbers that Disney offered in their films. The same goes for their stories, which range from okay to mediocre. "Vivo" may have the chance to fit into that category, especially with DeMicco on board, whose only good movie he wrote and directed (at least in my eyes) is "The Croods". However, it turns out that that is not the case. The film is a straightforward yet delightful adventure filled with vibrancy, charm, and heart, and yes, I had a lot of fun watching it. Instead of relying on tiring pop culture references to impress its audiences like most Sony Pictures Animation films, "Vivo" puts a bit more effort into providing a heartwarming story about love. While its screenplay fell short at delivering high-quality art regarding its characters and themes, it still managed to be entertaining and emotional, especially for those who can relate to this scenario. Combine that with some likable characters and toe-tapping songs, and you get a beautiful and heartfelt depiction of its culture, music, and the love that came from them. I would give the film credit for having a diverse cast. In addition to some big names like Saldana, Henry, and Rooker, "Vivo" also had some voice actors from Cuban heritage, like González and Estefan. They all did pretty well regarding their vocal performances, especially Miranda as Vivo, who seeks to redeem his relationship with his late owner. His charismatic performance proved that there's enough space in his career to bring a cartoon character to life with his acting and singing. Newcomer Ynairaly Simo was also respectable in her role as Gabi. She can be a bit obnoxious sometimes, but thankfully, it didn't reach the point where I want to throw a guitar at her. The animation, like its plot, wasn't anything too special, but man, I could not help but admire its sense of color, lighting, and energy. The 2D animated sequences worked wonders during a couple of scenes, and the main animation was stunning regarding its sceneries, character designs, and musical numbers. Speaking of which, the songs, which Miranda wrote, were admittedly decent. If you've seen Miranda's other works before "Vivo", you would immediately recognize his Hispanic style of music. Even though they didn't come close to being possible award contenders, they're catchy enough to inject life and style into their sequences. There's the one song from Simo that was a bit too headache-inducing for me at first, but after hearing it a second time during the end credits, I started to get used to it. It's not a perfect song, but it got me moving and grooving, which was all that matters to me.
Overall, it may not be the most intelligent or creative film that Sony Pictures Animation offered, but "Vivo" manages to hit almost all of the right notes in its simplistic plot and music. While its script wasn't as groundbreaking as its messages, the film is visually appealing and unapologetically heartwarming. With its talented voice cast, gorgeous animation, energetic musical numbers, and a well-told story, this is another deserving win for Netflix and Sony's animation studio. "The Mitchells vs. the Machines" is still my favorite in the Sony Animation/Netflix trilogy, in my opinion, with this movie coming in at a close second. If you enjoy Miranda in his other works and need something to distract the kids at home, I think this film should suit your musical needs.