Sony Pictures Animation is back with their third original Netflix flick, following the hugely creative duo of Wish Dragon and The Mitchells vs the Machines. This time round the studio has paired with musical maestro Lin-Manuel Miranda for their first for-ray into a musical outing, with the Hamilton star co-writing a whole bunch of catchy original songs with frequent collaborator Alex Lacamoire, in this hugely enjoyable animated adventure.
Directed by Kirk DeMicco (The Croods) and Brandon Jeffords, Vivo centres on the titular all-singing, all-dancing kinkajou (voiced by Lin-Manuel Miranda) who entertains the crowds of the bustling Havana square with musician and friend Andrés (Juan de Marcos). However, when tragedy strikes, Vivo sets out on a journey to Miami, Florida to deliver a moving message to his busking partner’s old flame, the famous singer Marta Sandoval (Gloria Estefan) at her farewell concert. Written years ago, the message is in the form of an unspoken love song, with Andrés never finding the right time to perform it for Marta. But to get the song across to the famous Latin American singer, Vivo will need the help of Andrés’s energetic neice Gabi (Ynairaly Simo).
Opening with a real bang, Vivo quickly establishes the brilliantly colourful and musically vibrant world with a fun opening duo with leads Lin-Manuel Miranda and Juan de Marcos González. The large scale song and dance number charts the pair busking in Havana’s Plaza Vieja, set to Miranda’s signature combination of energetic rap and Broadway show tunes, with a significant Latin flavour. Later on, Vivo and Gabi’s reluctant-buddy dynamic shines in their fun and fast-paced adventure, as they race against time to attempt their mission. While the narrative is more conventional than the studios’ previous instalments, the witty script from DeMicco and Quiara Alegría Hudes elevates the material – balancing the uncomplicated story with heartfelt themes and well-timed humour.
Miranda excels as the adorable and hugely talented honey bear, wonderfully paired with Juan de Marco’s loving warmth and endearing nature. Newcomer Ynairaly Simo shines as the quirky misfit Gabi, who holds her own against the more established cast members, brilliantly performing ‘Dance To The Beat Of My Own Drum.’ The talented supporting cast includes Zoe Saldaña as Gabi’s overbearing mum, legendary Cuban-American singer Gloria Estefan as singer Marta Sandoval, Michael Rooker’s Jungle Book-esque python and Brian Tyree Henry’s lovesick spoonbill.
However, it’s the music that truly brings this animated tale to life, with Miranda crafting 11 original new songs for the soundtrack, rivalling his work on Disney’s Moana. The musical mastermind’s passion for vibrant big Broadway numbers paired with clever rhyming couplets is evident in many of the songs, with Gabi’s involvement introducing an intriguingly contrasting musical style. “Dance To The Beat Of My Own Drum” proves a big beat teen anthem and a real departure to the more Latin inspired tracks, yet when the two come together for duet “Keep the Beat”, the styles wonderfully complement each other.
The music is paired with a dazzling mix of animation styles, with two distinct regions brought to life in their own unique ways. The Cuban cityscapes are rendered with colourful atmosphere, which occasionally evolve into a dazzling retro 2D flourish. In contrast, the city of Miami is rendered as a neon wonderland. The visual effects team add an impressive touch of lighting, shading and texture to the animation, along with strong character design – particularly with the adorable Vivo and punk inspired hair, clothing and giant glasses of Gabi.
Vivo is a delightful and heartfelt musical adventure celebrating life, love and individuality. Sony Pictures continues to impress with their animated offerings, smartly teaming up with the in-demand Lin-Manuel Miranda for an infectious dose of musical delight, featuring a timely reminder to always embrace opportunities and those closest to you.