CAST: Lin-Manuel Miranda, Ynairaly Simo, Zoe Saldana, Juan de Marcos González, Michael Rooker, Brian Tyree Henry, Nicole Byer, Gloria Estefan, Leslie David Baker, Katie Lowes, Olivia Trujillo, Lidya Jewett
RUNNING TIME: 95 mins
BASICALLY…: A musical kinkajou named Vivo (Miranda) embarks on a journey to deliver a special message…
NOW FOR THE REVIEW…
Lin-Manuel Miranda is making damn sure that he’s at least in the running for an Oscar this year, which if he ends up winning one would make him a one-of-a-kind PEGOT (like an EGOT, but in addition to an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony, also a Pulitzer Prize). Possible contenders that could finally earn him that “O” include In The Heights, which did have solid reviews but slightly disappointing box office, his directorial debut Tick, Tick… Boom! which comes out later this year, the upcoming Disney musical Encanto, and the animated musical Vivo for which he has provided not only a slew of original songs but also his voice as the titular character.
Of all four possibilities (sight unseen with both Tick, Tick… Boom! and Encanto), Vivo might possibly be his best chance yet at winning one, because while it is already a charming and colourful family adventure, its soundtrack is so on point with Lin-Manuel Miranda’s iconic style that the Academy would be fools to not recognise it this time.
We begin on the streets of Havana, Cuba, where an old street performer named Andrés (Juan de Marcos González) and his kinkajou sidekick Vivo (Miranda) live a jovial and musical life. One day, Andrés receives a letter from singer and former flame Marta (Gloria Estefan), inviting him to perform with her at her farewell concert in Miami, Florida; Andrés is initially overjoyed that he will finally be reunited with his long-lost love after many years, but when tragedy strikes Vivo is left alone to deliver a special message to Marta in the form of a song that Andrés wrote many years ago for her. He hops a ride to Key West with Andrés’ distant relatives, including hyperactive grand-niece Gabi (Ynairaly Simo), and from there heads on a perilous adventure through the Floridian Everglades to get to the concert in time and deliver the song to the only person Andrés ever loved.
It’s not a film that breaks any storytelling barriers by any means, as it does contain a very simple plot told simply enough – protagonist must get from A to B in time to deliver a special message – and its characters are for the most part equally simplistic. However, you can feel its beating heart pumping through every meaningful lyric, with themes and messages conveyed sweetly without being too overplayed for its younger audience. Director Kirk DeMicco has previously worked with the likes of DreamWorks Animation (where the movie was originally developed, before the studio abruptly cancelled production and moved it over to Sony, who in turn handed it off to Netflix due to the pandemic), and you can tell he’s used to delivering a fair mixture of cartoon slapstick and surprisingly heavy drama, because Vivo contains both an amusing but also rather mature approach to some hard facts of life, such as the sudden departure of a close family member, or being unable to properly mourn since there are several things left unsaid. Of course, there are multiple animated films that cover a wide variety of mature topics so Vivo really isn’t so unique, but it still manages to convey them in a heart-warming and feel-good manner which is what makes it a rather sweet movie to experience.
Then, of course, there’s the music. When you have none other than Lin-Manuel Miranda writing the lyrics to your family-friendly animated musical, you’re going to get a bunch of incredibly lively, intricately written songs set to hummable melodies, and you get all of that plus the rap lyrics that have cemented his place in modern musical history. The movie comes alive the most when it’s indulging itself in a musical number, doing well to match the personalities of the characters singing them; one number, sung by young Gabi, is an overproduced and autotuned hot mess, but it works because that seems like the kind of music a child character like that would actively listen to. Some of the musical numbers can also be extremely heartfelt, particularly a climactic number by renowned singer Gloria Estefan – and probably the most likely song to be put forward for Oscar consideration – which tugs at the heartstrings.
It’s nice to watch an animated musical like this which doesn’t necessarily break the mould, or even do anything truly profound in terms of its storytelling or characters, but still get by with its endearing charm and some smartly executed song performances. In terms of overall quality, it’s a decent enough film; it’s no The Mitchells vs. The Machines by any means, but as a neat little summer holiday surprise, Vivo is a nice option to watch with your kids during an evening snuggled up on the sofa, singing along to a musical kinkajou that’s voiced by Lin-Manuel Miranda. That PEGOT status is coming very soon, my friend.
SO, TO SUM UP…
Vivo isn’t the most sophisticated storytelling ever put to film, but it offers a wide and colourful spectrum of heart and charm, boosted by some top-notch songs by Lin-Manuel Miranda which are hummable and impressive enough to coast by on.