Vivo review: A love song to the magic of music
James R | On 14, Aug 2021
Director: Kirk DeMicco
Cast: Lin-Manuel Miranda, Juan de Marcos González, Gloria Estefan, Ynairaly Simo
Ever since Hamilton stormed the international stage, Lin-Manuel Miranda has been the leading man for the musical movie genre, from the filmed version of his historic historical lyrical masterpiece to the upcoming Encanto, Tick, Tick… Boom! and even the recent In the Heights. Vivo, Netflix’s latest acquisition from Sony, sees Miranda once again stretching his vocal chords, including the fast-paced rap that opens events, as we’re introduced to Vivo (voiced by Miranda), a kinkajou (rainforest honey bear) who performs in the Havana streets with his adoptive owner, Andrés (Juan de Marcos González).
From the wordplay and tongue-tripping rhymes to the relentless energy, it all feels very familiar Miranda territory, but the tale swiftly opens up from the odd couple duo of Vivo and Andrés to become a heartfelt tale of love, loss and remembering where we come from. We soon discover that, when Andrés was young, he was in love with the singer Marta Sandoval (Gloria Estefan), but never had the courage to tell her how he feels. But when she reaches out with an invitation to join her at her retirement concert at the Mambo Cabana in Miami, a quest begins for Vivo to take a song that Andrés wrote from Cuba to Florida so that she can finally learn of his feelings.
What ensues is a road trip that stretches from the airport and Key West, Florida, to the perilous Everglades, where an anaconda poses a threat. All the while, he’s helped by his unlikely new friend, Gabi (Ynairaly Simo), who prefers modern music to the the tunes of Andrés and Marta’s generation. Again, so far, so familiar, right down to a trio of girl scouts who disrupt Vivo’s plans – and that detour into convention is something of a disappointment after the jaw-dropping originality of Sony Animation’s last two outings, Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse and The Mitchells vs the Machines.
But while the script by director Kirk DeMicco and Quiara Alegría Hudes threatens to tread water in the middle section, it’s in the mix of these two familiar parts that Vivo finds its own charm. Because what the film is about, above all, is harmony, and the chords that are strummed become increasingly complex. Like the opening number, which captures the rush of two performers working together, Vivo is at its best when tracing the intangible alchemy of two people being in tune.
That extends to the visuals, as DeMicco weaves some enchanting compositions, whisking us from the lively, lived-in streets of Havana to the neon beats of Miami via glowing pink sunsets and – thanks to a transition sparked by a trumpet – suddenly into a two-dimensional, 50s-style dance sequence that immerses us in the spell of Estefan and González’s intertwined voices, letting us simultaneously hear and see their passion.
That spell is underpinned throughout by Miranda’s versatile, playful songs, which include the strikingly electric rhythms of Gabi’s own “bounce to the beat of my own drum” anthem, performed with Missy Elliot-worthy attitude by the brilliant Ynairly Simo. That song of self-belief ultimately fuses with Vivo’s own stylings, as they bring together music and lyrics to pay tribute to Andrés and Marta’s bond. The result is a literal love song to the magic of music – and Miranda presents it with an earnest sincerity that doesn’t fail to pluck at your heartstrings.