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Film Review: ‘Vivo’ is a Colorful and Musical Animated Experience

Netflix / Sony Animation

A hallmark of good animated fare has long been a catchy soundtrack. In fact, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that some of the best musicals have been found within the world of animation. Now, Vivo can be added to that list. Featuring a whole host of enjoyable tunes from Lin-Manuel Miranda, the film works overtime to charm you. Between the bright colors, songs, and voice work, Netflix and Sony Animation have a hit on their hands. It’s more than a little bit of a shame that Vivo won’t be hitting theaters, but even as a streaming option, it manages to stand out. Especially for families, this is one to look forward to when it hits Netflix in early August.

Vivo is fairly simple, but it’s rather well executed, and that makes a difference. You don’t have to overload on ambition or a high concept in order to work. Sometimes, a classic story done well is all you need. The bright and colorful animation stands out, so if the story only hints at deeper elements, you likely won’t mind one bit.

Netflix / Sony Animation

This animated adventure begins in Cuba. There, Vivo (voice of Lin-Manuel Miranda), a musical kinkajou, is living a lovely life playing music for adoring crowds, all at the side of his doting owner Andrés (voice of Juan de Marcos González). The latter may not understand the former (though we do), music bonds them. One day, Andrés gets a letter in the mail that will change things forever. Arriving from the famous singer Marta Sandoval (voice of Gloria Estefan), the note is inviting her old partner to a farewell concert she’s having. Marta is hoping to reconnect with him, and the feeling is mutual. However, Andrés passes away before he can head off to Miami and reunite. His passing leaves Vivo with a song that Andrés wrote to Marta, one that tells her what he’s always felt. Desperate to get her the song, he sees an opportunity when Andrés’ family visits for his memorial. Tween Gabi (voice of Ynairaly Simo) takes a shine to Vivo, and while he doesn’t care much for the out of control kid, she’s his ticket out of here.

Hiding away in Gabi’s luggage, Vivo arrives in Miami and, along with the high energy girl, sets out for Marta’s concert. Dodging animals, children, and Gabi’s mother (voice of Zoe Saldana), the pair bond while attempting to fulfill Andrés final wish. The journey is a mess, with close calls throughout, but one filled with adventure and music.

Netflix / Sony Animation

Lin-Manuel Miranda makes for a strong voice acting lead, while also putting forth solid music. Nothing here approaches Hamilton, but between Vivo and In the Heights, not to mention the impending tick, tick…Boom!, he’s having a hell of a year. He makes the talented kinkajou a character well worth following. Ynairaly Simo may prove divisive, though it’s not for a lack of effort. Gabi is incredibly high energy, so Simo goes all in on that. It just may be a bit much for some. Miranda and Simo do make a good team, however. The rest of the voice cast includes Nicole Byer, Gloria Estefan, Juan de Marcos González, Brian Tyree Henry, Michael Rooker, Zoe Saldana, and more.

Filmmaker Kirk DeMicco co-directs here with Brandon Jeffords, while co-writing with Peter Barsocchini, Quiara Alegría Hudes, and Lin-Manuel Miranda (who also contributes the musical book). While DeMicco and company certainly puts forth a simple work, it’s done in an amusing enough way that it goes down easy. Admittedly, Gabi may grate on some as a character (including yours truly), she’s designed to entertain the youngest of viewers. Aside from that, and a bit of a bloated running time, they all come together to make Vivo easily enjoyable.

Vivo will delight children, while still being more than amusing enough for adults. Initially meant to be a theatrical release, the movie would have been thrilling to see on the big screen. Still, even just on Netflix, it’s going to make kids very happy. In fact, it’s going to make entire families smile, and that’s truly something.

SCORE: ★★★

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Written by Joey Magidson

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