What power does one song have? That is the question Vivo sets out to answer with eye-catching visuals and a narrative that stumbles along the way.
Sony Pictures Animation came in swinging in 2021. First, there was The Mitchells vs. The Machines, then came Wish Dragon, and now they have set out to make a melody out of your heartstrings with Vivo. As the animation studio’s first-ever musical adventure, the film follows Vivo (Lin-Manuel Miranda), a musically gifted kinkajou reluctant to face any change. That is until the letter arrives. Vivo then finds himself traveling all the way to Miami in order to fulfill his destiny and deliver a love song for an old friend.
The film starts off strong with beautiful scenery that transports you instantly to Cuba. There’s Spanish mixed in devoid of stereotypical accents, humorously realistic arguments, and best of all, croquetas! For those that have been long awaiting proper representation of Latinx-Caribbean culture in the animated landscape, you’ll instantly know you’re in for a treat. The film lives and breathes a seaside rhythm. However, within those first few minutes, it’s evident Sony came for the jugular.
The proper representation of Caribbean culture is enough to move to tears those that feel identified. Then there are the emotional motifs followed by a foreseen character death that can possibly make a grown man cry. Many moments also speak out to the diaspora and those that have to leave their home in the Caribbean to seek a better life and better opportunities. It’s all accompanied by Miranda’s maestro touch with music that properly adds to the story. That being said, the musical contributions often feel one-note. Many of the beats and vibes of his creation feel like what we’ve heard before, but he manages to add a new spin to familiar tunes.
When it comes to the film itself, the best moments are within the first and third acts. The songs effortlessly blend with the animation in an expertly timed song and dance. And much like Sony’s own Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, the film mixes various animation styles to gorgeous effect. Unfortunately, the second act struggles to find its own beat. Various complications create setbacks for our heroes, but they barely contribute to the overall story. When Vivo is in Cuba with Andrés (Juan de Marcos González), there is true magic, but it loses all of that wonder in Florida. Luckily, the final moments save it thanks to stunning vocals by Gloria Estefan as Marta.
A decade in the making, Vivo is full of surprises. While the story itself has its twists and turns that fail to properly hold the story along the way, it hits the ground running and manages to stick the landing in the end. Director Kirk DeMicco and co-writer Quiara Alegria Hudes craft a story that, while simple, stands on its own. It’s a dedication to Cuban culture and the heart and soul of the Caribbean. It is also an acknowledgment of those that have to pave their way elsewhere in the pursuit of their dreams. It speaks on loss, be it in a physical or an emotional sense.
In the end, does a song have the power to make a difference? Despite it being a question that has been asked time and time again, Vivo makes it a delightful journey of introspection and discovery with lively and unforgettable characters. When words fail, music speaks, and Vivo does its best to keep the beat going. – Josie Meléndez
The film features Lin-Manuel Miranda, Ynairaly Simo, Zoe Saldaña, Juan de Marcos González, and Gloria Estefan.
It is available to stream exclusively on Netflix.