Vivo (2020) Review!!

Synopsis – Vivo, Sony Pictures Animation’s first-ever musical adventure featuring all-new original songs from Lin-Manuel Miranda, will take audiences on an epic adventure to gorgeous and vibrant locations never before seen in animation.

My Take – With the release of the excellent The Mitchells vs. The Machines and the very watchable Wish Dragon behind them, Netflix and Sony Pictures Animation’s partnership has without a doubt outdone expectations, hence an added hype was attached to their next venture, especially since it incorporates the talents of the one of the most currently busiest men in Hollywood, Lin-Manuel Miranda.

From penning and starring in the live stage recording of the 2015 Broadway musical, Hamilton, and the feature adaption of the well received In the Heights to directing his first feature directorial the upcoming Tick, Tick… Boom!, the award-winning songwriter and performer is clearly the man of the moment, who has now added an animated adventure to his growing filmography.

Originally pitched to DreamWorks in 2010 based on an original idea by writer Peter Barsocchini (High School Musical), the film ended up at Sony years later, who fast-tracked the project for a 2020 theatrical release, only to see it postponed and then cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, ending up on Netflix.

Nevertheless, that doesn’t discount the fact that the film, directed by Kirk DeMicco (The Croods), co-directed by Brandon Jeffords (Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2), and written by Quiara Alegria Hudes (In the Heights), is a stunning feat that will lapped up by the whole family.

Part adventure, part musical, alongside some nice lessons imparted about friendship, family and taking risks, the film is undeniably very enjoyable, even if it doesn’t always come together.

Sure, this is not the kind of animated film we will remember few years down the line, probably as Lin-Manuel Miranda‘s voice talents may not be for everybody, but if you’re a fan, this one is fabulously infectious work, delivering a slew of cross-blended musical numbers that are foot tapping and catchy.

The story follows Vivo (voiced by Lin-Manuel Miranda), a kinkajou who spends every day performing in the city of in Havana, Cuba, alongside Andrés Hernández (voiced by Juan de Marcos González), his talented owner and best friend, never failing to impress their audiences. However, Vivo is left fuming when Andrés receives a letter from his former singing partner and estranged love of his life, the now-famous Marta Sandoval (voiced by Gloria Estefan) asking him to join her in city of Miami, U.S.A. on stage for her final live performance.

And as Vivo doesn’t wish for their routine to change he leaves Andrés excitingly packing after digging out an old song he wrote for her decades earlier that confesses his true feelings, to present it as gift to her.

But when Vivo returns the next morning, he is left saddened to find Andrés passed away. Determined to make sure that Marta receives his parting gift, Vivo sneaks into the luggage of Andrés only remaining family, his niece, Rosa (voiced by Zoe Saldaña) and her daughter Gabi (voiced by Ynairaly Simo), a tween who’s not the greatest singer but has a passion for music that matches Vivo. And when Gabi figures out Vivo’s plan, they sneak off and head to Miami together.

With its dazzling visuals, catchy tunes, and heartfelt story, it only takes moments to be immersed in the world of the film. Havana and its inhabitants appear in arresting animated full of life and color, and with Miranda’s signature fast-paced verses dropping fast on the audience in the square, you know you’re in for something uniquely charming. It’s delightful, plain and simple. While the tragedy that strikes early on might be a little more difficult for younger viewers, the film avoids going too dark.

We all know Miranda’s songwriting skills are still stellar, but the best part of the film happens when the music and animation work in tandem to elevate the story, playing with the visual style to highlight the music, so it all meshes together in a beautiful symphony.

Here, director Kirk DeMicco, takes a lot of really cool liberties, breaking the rules of traditional animation and incorporating a lot of fantastical elements, especially during its musical numbers. The result elevates the audience and makes them feel as joyous as Vivo is performing.

For example, when Andrés sings about his memories with Marta, and the film shifts into a retro concert-poster style, with bright blocks of color and soft edges, and when Gabi sings an anthem to being weird, it becomes something else. These moments are transcendent, a testament to both the strength of the music and the creativity of the animation production design.

Among the songs, Gabi’s personal anthem, My Own Drum, is the highlight, as she triumphantly sings as she declares herself to be extra. It’s a delightful and catchy song that everyone will probably immediately find themselves singing along.

But for all its charms and delights it does struggle at times. For example, I found the film’s penultimate musical number, to be the weakest number of the lot. I also found the relationship between Rosa and Gabi a bit underdeveloped, especially given the tremendous loss they suffered and are still navigating when we meet them. Another issue of the film is the arc of Rosa, who searches the city to try and prevent Gabi from going to the concert. Despite a wildly different motivation here, it felt to me very derivative of similar plot lines in other animated films.

Thankfully, these issues aren’t enough to mess with the wholesome magic at the film‘s core, and the film is able to overcome any problems with the help of Miranda’s toe-tapping tunes and some genuinely great voice performances. Although we can’t see Lin-Manuel Miranda perform directly, he displays a great voice for Vivo, providing both the comical and emotional side to the character. Of course, we can’t forget his glorious singing voice as well, something that never fails to impress us. However it newcomer Ynairaly Simo who steals the show as the voice of Gabi, bringing both youthful energy and some great vocals to the character.

In other roles, Zoe Saldaña, Gloria Estefan, Katie Lowes, Olivia Trujillo, and Lidya Jewett and Juan de Marcos González are also terrific, while Michael Rooker, Brian Tyree Henry, and Nicole Byer make for impressive cameos. On the whole, ‘Vivo’ is a vibrant and infectious catchy animated musical that makes for a fabulous fun piece of heartfelt family entertainment.

Directed – Kirk DeMicco, Brandon Jeffords

Starring (voices of) – Lin-Manuel Miranda, Ynairaly Simo, Zoe Saldana

Rated – PG

Run Time – 95 minutes

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