When a terrified little kinkajou is chased into a Havana square, he’s drawn to the music of Andrés (voice of Buena Vista Social Club’s Juan de Marcos González), a kindly old public performer who saves him. The duo become a well loved act, but the little honey bear is distressed when Andrés receives a letter from Marta Sandoval (voice of Gloria Estefan), the singer he used to play for and has loved all his life, asking him to come to her last concert in Miami. He reconsiders the old man’s feelings after hearing the song he wrote for her, but Andrés has fallen into his final sleep. A boisterous great grandniece, Gabi (voice of newcomer Ynairaly Simo), who travels to Cuba with her mother Rosa (voice of Zoe Saldana) to pay their respects, becomes the unwitting transport back to Florida for that song and the kinkajou named “Vivo.”
Laura's Review: B
As it turns out, “In the Heights” wasn’t the only project from Lin-Manual Miranda’s pre-“Hamilton” days just itching to find its way onto the big screen and that musical’s cowriter, Quiara Alegría Hudes, returns here to flesh out his original songs and characters with “The Croods” director Kirk DeMicco into a colorful and energetic cross-generational and cross-cultural tale in which music is the language of love.
And while one can feel the love emanating to and from Vivo (voice of Lin-Manuel Miranda) and Andrés, it is distinctly one-sided when Vivo meets Gabi, a little girl of constant, chaotic motion topped off with spiky magenta colored hair. Once in Florida, Vivo’s initial intent is to flee, but he still needs to find his way from Key West to Miami and when Gabi sees the sheet of hand drawn music and figures out its meaning, she promises to deliver it and Vivo to their destination. Rosa is having none of her daughter’s supposed new-found interest in Sandoval, however, insisting she honor her commitment to sell cookies with her Sand Dollar troop. So without her mom’s unwitting help, Gabi, as she will tell us in her big thematic number ‘My Own Drum,’ does her own thing, for better or worse, her ‘plans,’ as Vivo will learn, ideas which mutate on the fly.
So, when the duo are confronted by the Sand Dollars (voices of Katie Lowes, Olivia Trujillo, and Lidya Jewett) as they try to make their escape, not only do they miss their bus, but Vivo is targeted by their mean girl leader as an illegal exotic. A bike and scooter chase lands the two on a barge where Gabi constructs a makeshift raft to travel through the Everglades towards Miami. This will be a grand adventure where the two will be separated, Andrés’s song always endangered, as will they when they run into python Lutador (voice of Michael Rooker). A lovesick spoonbill Dancarino (voice of Brian Tyree Henry) will provide the ‘birds eye view’ necessary to once again send them on their way.
The animation style switches from 3D CGI mode to a flatter, handdrawn style whenever the film segues into memory or fantasy, like Andrés remembering the moment his declaration of love for Marta was interrupted by the concert promoter who would make her a star or by Gabi and Vevo’s musical drumming interlude while afloat in the Everglades. Vibrant colors symbolize our main characters, Marta’s stage gown a brilliant turquoise green, the yellowish Vivo’s purplish shadings reflecting Gabi’s hair, his bow-tie the color of Marta’s gown. Production design contrasts the old world architecture of Havana with the beachy vibes of Key West and the slick city stylings of Miami. Miranda’s music, featuring Cuban mambo, pop and his signature rap, is beginning to exhibit a melodic sameness, but his lyrics are a far cut above the usual for animation tunes.
“Vivo” pairs together two disparate characters who’ve both suffered painful loss for a Caribbean set adventure. In delivering a message of love, the sentiment radiates out all around them.
Robin's Review: B
Aging Andres (Juan de Marcos Gonzalez) and his partner and pet kinkajou entertain the crowds with their music in a busy plaza in downtown Havana. When he receives a letter from his old flame and musical partner, Marta Sandoval (Gloria Estefan), inviting him to her final performance in Miami, Andres is thrilled. He excitedly plans to go to her, with a song he wrote many years ago in hand, but his little honey bear fears tragedy in “Vivo.”
Lin-Manuel Miranda gives voice to the diminutive Vivo and leads the mostly Latino cast in this fast-paced, music-saturated and joyful musical about love never lost, just put on hold. Little Vivo proved right when, on the eve of departure, Andres dies, leaving a love letter in the form of a song written long ago.
With Andres gone, Vivo must turn to his lost friend’s grand niece, Gabi (Ynairaly Simo), to deliver the song to Marta. This begins a journey of adventure and danger as Vivo must cross the 90 miles from Havana to Key West, FL. This quest and how it turns out is the meat, and the fun, of “Vivo.”
The music and songs, written by Miranda and Alex Lacamoire, are catchy and toe tapping but there is a sameness to the music, reminding me strongly of both “Hamilton’s” tunes and the music of “In the Heights.”
Nicely, you root for the cute little honey bear and his mission in this brightly-colored fantasy tale that honors its Latin heritage.
"Vivo" premieres on Netflix on 8/6/2021.