For quite a while now, Disney/Pixar has “owned” the animation space. The decline of Dreamworks Animation has left the field basically open to them. But competitors are emerging, including (relatively) smaller player Sony Pictures Animation. Their first animated musical, Vivo, is a swing for the fences. Vivo sees the storied Lin-Manuel Miranda (In the Heights) team up with director Kirk DeMicco (The Croods) for a heartwarming hero’s quest. And while it might not be a complete home run, it’s probably a stand-up triple (to carry through the baseball analogy).
The story opens in Havana, where Andrés (voiced by Juan de Marcos González) and his kinkajou Vivo (Miranda) play music to entertain crowds in the Plaza Vieja. On this particular day however, Andrés is given the opportunity of a lifetime. His former musical partner Marta Sandoval (Gloria Estefan) has invited him to her farewell performance in Miami. Andrés secretly loved Marta back in the day, but his attempt to profess that love were interrupted by an American promoter who whisked her off to the States. Now Andrés finally has the chance to give her the song he wrote expressing his feelings. But fate will intervene. Andrés passes away in the night, leaving Vivo alone.
At the memorial service, Vivo encounters Rosa (Zoe Saldana) and her rebellious daughter Gabi (Ynairaly Simo). Andrés was Gabi’s great-uncle, but she doesn’t really seem to be following in his footsteps. They live in Florida, and Gabi isn’t musically talented, though she tries hard – often discordantly. A series of events sees Vivo end up in the family’s home in Key West. When he’s discovered, he’s able to convey enough to Gabi to allow her to grasp the importance of Andrés’ song. She decides to get Vivo to Miami so he can deliver it to Marta. But Gabi’s lack of planning sees the pain adrift in the Florida Everglades, where danger lurks around every bend.
Just like the best Pixar films, Vivo has something for just about everyone. Kids will enjoy the cute animals and the poppets-in-peril storyline. Teens can get into Miranda’s distinctive musical style (and might even learn something about Latin music); while DeMicco and co-screenwriter Quiara Alegría Hudes pepper the script with enough jokes to keep adults amused. Of course, tears may be expected, and a heartfelt ending is assured.
At just 95 minutes, the film doesn’t outstay its welcome, and DeMicco and co-director Brandon Jeffords pretty much keep the action zipping along. The animation style maybe isn’t as “slick” as Pixar, but it’s distinctive. I particularly enjoyed the retro animation style used in the flashback scenes. The voice cast is excellent, but of course it’s all about the music. Miranda carries most of the musical numbers, with considerable assistance from Gloria Estefan, Juan de Marcos González and Ynairaly Simo. If you’re a fan of Miranda’s other work (like Hamilton), you’ll find plenty to like here.
Although it might not be as good as Disney/Pixar’s Soul, Vivo is still a thoroughly enjoyable musical romp. It’s a very solid follow-up for Sony Pictures Animation to its recent The Mitchells vs The Machines. This is an ideal Saturday night family diversion, especially if you can’t leave the house at the moment.
Vivo is now streaming on Netflix
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David Edwards is the editor of The Blurb and a contributor on film and television