Movie Review – Vivo
Editor’s note: The views and opinions expressed in this review are solely those of Marlon Wallace and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of WBOC.
Lin-Manuel Miranda pitched the idea for this film back in 2010, not that long after his play In the Heights premiered on Broadway. It’s been in development for about a decade. It’s ironic that this film would then be released not that long after the film adaptation of In the Heights (2021). Peter Barsocchini, who wrote High School Musical (2006), came up with the story. Quiara Alegría Hudes who wrote the book for In the Heights penned the screenplay. It was co-directed by Brandon Jeffords who is a long-time storyboard artist. Yet, this film was directed and co-written by Kirk DeMicco, who is an Oscar-nominee for The Croods (2013). There will be a good amount of competition in the category of Best Animated Feature, such as Disney’s Luca (2021) and The Mitchells vs the Machines (2021), but, depending on what comes between now and the end of the year, my hope is that this film gets DeMicco another nomination.
My hope is that Miranda also gets another Oscar nomination. Miranda was nominated for Best Original Song for Moana (2016). He could conceivably get another nomination in that same category because Miranda wrote all 11 songs for this film. His standout is the song “My Own Drum,” which is a perfect anthem for not only young people but all people. Not to diminish the work Miranda put into his first Broadway musical, but “My Own Drum” is better than most, if not all the songs apart of In the Heights. He perhaps is working in a different mode than he was for the Broadway stage but “My Own Drum” pops in a way that a song rarely pops.
Miranda voices Vivo, a kinkajou living in Havana, Cuba, with his elderly human companion named Andrés. Vivo was abandoned on the street and basically adopted by Andrés who is a long-time musician. Vivo learned music from Andrés and became apart of the street act that Andrés does where he performs songs at a square or city plaza. A former love interest of Andrés named Marta, voiced by Gloria Estefan, announces that she’s doing a farewell concert in Miami, Florida. Andrés wrote a song for Marta and Vivo makes it his mission to deliver that song and the music sheet for it to Marta before her concert.
It’s a simple adventure story. It’s not like In the Heights, which had to juggle a cross-section of Latino cultures and peoples, as it tried to paint a picture of one specific neighborhood in New York City. It was more an ensemble, trying to give shine to many characters and due right by all of them. It’s a bigger task than this film, which is really only about two characters. It provides a glimpse into Cuban culture but only a glimpse and isn’t necessarily about delving into Cuban experiences too deeply. It’s no Chico & Rita (2011), even though there are parallels to that animated Oscar-winner. It’s also no Coco (2017) in that it’s not exploring more complicated or even layered themes.
If anything, this film is closer to something like The Jungle Book (1967). There is even a scene in this film that felt very similar to one in that animated Oscar-nominee. Both that 1967 cartoon and this one involve a large, sinister snake. A couple of spoonbills, which look like flamingos, also factor into this film, but they’re not as memorable, as the young human characters introduced here, particularly the predominantly female cast introduced here.
Ynairaly Simo voices Gabi Hernandez, the grand-niece of Andrés. She lives with her mom, Rosa, voiced by Zoe Saldana (Guardians of the Galaxy and Star Trek). She lives with her mom in Key West, Florida. She’s a unique and weird kind of girl. The song “My Own Drum” is her theme song or the song that describes who she is, and does so very well, or does so in a very catchy way. She represents nonconformity and individuality. Like most animated films – particularly Disney flicks – she’s also dealing with the loss of a parent, specifically her father. Despite being a champion for love and a bit of a hopeless romantic, she’s okay with being alone or doing things solo, which is actually very bold for a character.
Some good comic relief are the Sand Dollars, a trio of girls who clearly represent conformity. They seem like a group of girl scouts who are fierce environmentalists. They’re antagonists, but a source of comedy in contrast to Gabi. Like most of these animated films, it’s about the friendship that grows between Vivo and Gabi. The two are rather opposites in their personalities or instincts, but that friendship is well developed here. It might be hackneyed, but the filmmakers craft it superbly and make it work effectively.
Rated PG for some thematic elements and mild action.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 39 mins.
Available on Netflix.