Vivo movie review: Vibrant and wonderful Netflix musical continues Lin-Manuel Miranda's domination
- Vivo movie review: Boasting stellar visuals, a moving story, and trademark Lin-Manuel Miranda earnestness, the new Netflix film is a musical adventure that continues his cultural domination.
In its attempt to match the intensity of the third act devastation that usually defines Pixar movies, Sony’s Vivo drops a plot development so heartbreaking within the first 15 minutes that it basically spends the rest of its run time trying to sustain that level of emotion. It nearly succeeds.
It was only a matter of time before juggernauts Netflix and Lin-Manuel Miranda collided, so it makes sense for them to have chosen to collaborate instead. Vivo is the third film to have been offloaded by Sony Pictures Animation to the streaming giant, following The Mitchells vs the Machines and Wish Dragon.
Watch the Vivo trailer here:
Boasting stellar visuals, a moving story, and trademark Lin-Manuel Miranda earnestness, Vivo is a musical adventure that continues his cultural domination. He is the voice of a generation, and this is his year. Vivo is sandwiched between the equally resonant In the Heights, his directorial debut, Tick, Tick… Boom!, and Disney’s Encanto -- a packed calendar by anybody's standards. But if Lin-Manuel Miranda fatigue were a thing, we’d have experienced it already.
The Tony, Grammy, Emmy and Pulitzer Prize-winner in 2021 makes his strongest bid for an EGOT yet. In Vivo, he plays a kinkajou who goes on an adventure to fulfil the final wish of his owner, Andrés. He must relay a musical message to Andrés’ long-lost beloved, a famous singer named Marta Sandoval.
Andrés and Marta were lovers back in the day, but when destiny came calling, they parted ways. Andrés, in a grand sacrificial gesture, stayed back while she went away to follow her dreams. As Marta became a star, he spent his days playing music on the streets of Havana, Cuba, with Vivo, whom he rescued when the little critter was a baby.
Vivo is joined on his mission by Andrés’ grand-niece, Gabi, a 10-year-old misfit who lives in Miami with her mother. A version of Never Have I Ever unfolds in this subplot, but Vivo taps into Gabi’s personal loss only occasionally. It is never heavy-handed with the emotional manipulation. Whatever melancholy there is is woven organically into the fabric of the film.
Vivo and Gabi realise that though they might be very different on the surface — Vivo is a rational-minded monkey who measures his every move, while Gabi is unafraid of failure — they serve as foils to each other. But after a vibrant opening act in Cuba, the film spends a solid half hour in a Miami-adjacent swamp, the kind where Dexter Morgan would dump the bodies of his victims.
The swamp interlude in Vivo isn’t without its charms — Bryan Tyree Henry and Nicole Byer cameo as star-crossed spoonbills — but it feels strangely menacing in an otherwise upbeat movie. This is the stretch in which a villainous python voiced by Michael Rooker puts another roadblock in Vivo’s mission — an unnecessary diversion, if you ask me, considering the many obstacles that Vivo and Gabi already had in their path.
Director Kirk DeMicco, best known for having co-directed the Dreamworks hit The Croods, flirts with different animation styles here. While most of the movie relies on the sort of hyper-stylised CG animation that we’ve come to expect these days, certain scenes — the flashbacks — revert to a charming 2D aesthetic.
It is also worth noting that Andrés’ song for the girl that got away, which the movie builds towards for over an hour and has none other than Gloria Estefan perform, isn’t a patch on the show-stopping opening number. But DeMicco and co-writer Quiara Alegría Hudes, perhaps knowingly, circle back to a reprise of One of a Kind in the film’s final moments, thereby ensuring that you’re left with a sense of satisfaction, at least on a superficial level.
Vivo works because it’s earnest; and it doesn’t alienate adults in the manner that so many other animated films targeted at kids seem to. It might not be tuned to your tastes, and its tempo might fluctuate, but there are worse things to shrug at.
Director - Kirk DeMicco
Cast - Lin-Manuel Miranda, Ynairaly Simo, Zoe Saldana, Juan de Marcos González, Bryan Tyree Henry, Gloria Estefan
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The author tweets @RohanNaahar