Reel Reviews | Vivo

By Charles Kirkland Jr.

Lin-Manuel Miranda returns to the big screen with a tale of love and, of course, music as a kinkajou in the animated feature, Vivo.

When the super-star Marta Sandoval (Gloria Estefan) sends her old Cuban musical partner Andres Hernandez (Juan de Marcos Gonzalez) an invitation to join her at her farewell performance concert at the famous Mambo Cabana in Miami, he is overcome with joy, much to the dismay of his current musical partner, Vivo (Lin-Manuel Miranda) an extremely talented kinkajou.  Andres shares with Vivo a song that he wrote for Marta to express his love for her but was never able to share it with her before she left for stardom.  Convinced and willing to help, Vivo accepts the mission to take the song to Marta when Andres cannot make the journey from Cuba to Miami for the concert.  Can Vivo along with Andres’ precocious and headstrong niece, Gabi (Ynairaly Simo) make the deadline, overcome all obstacles and get the song to Marta in time?

Vivo is an animated musical adventure written by Kirk DeMicco and Quiara Alegria Hudes based upon a story by Hudes and Peter Barsocchini.  The movie stars the voice talents of Miranda, Simo, Gonzalez, and Estefan along with Zoe Saldana, Michael Rooker, Brian Tyree Henry, Nicole Byer.  Kirk DeMicco (The Croods) directs the film with the first-time director Brandon Jeffords as his co-director.  The film is jam-packed with original songs from Lin-Manuel Miranda who is quickly becoming a modern-day Sondheim.

VIVO – (Top to Bottom) Lin-Manuel Miranda as Vivo and Juan de Marcos Gonzalez as Andrés. ©2021 SPAI. All Rights Reserved.

Miranda, whose feature In the Heights premiered on HBO Max this year, adds Netflix to his resume of fantastic music work which already included Disney (Moana, Hamilton) with this feature film that is included in the “Representation Matters Collection” section of the streaming service. 

Where in the past he exemplified his musical supremacy through the work of lesser-known but extremely talented performers, Miranda, in Vivo, gets the opportunity to work with two musical icons, Juan de Marcos Gonzalez from the famed Buena Vista Social Club and the fabulous Gloria Estefan.  From the very opening drumming of bongos in the introduction, Miranda displays his deft command of Cuban jazz and then ventures seamlessly into other spheres of Latin rhythms and styles including mambo, rock, and even Miami house as Vivo travels from Cuba to Miami.  The cruise through the sounds is an impressive and powerful backbone for a delightful, colorful animated musical experience that can bring tears of joy to eyes.

VIVO – (Pictured) Gloria Estefan as Marta. ©2021 SPAI. All Rights Reserved.

But Miranda and his music are only one portion of this visual delight.  The animation is bright and gorgeous, perfectly capturing the dazzling array of the alluring colors of Cuba and Florida and the beautiful rainbow of colors of those of the Latinx community.  DeMicco crafts a smart and loving story filled with passion and heart.  The animation style is perfectly detailed but simple enough to entreat the attention and imagination of even the youngest of viewers. 

Rated PG for thematic elements and mild action, Vivo is an exceptionally vibrant spectacle for the eyes and ears of young and old.  It is an inspirational and emotional journey that is perfect for family and addresses themes of family, love, loss, and legacy.  Miranda continues with his golden touch for storytelling through music and this feature does as much for representation as In the Heights does and possibly more because it has the ability to reach a much wider audience, as wide as the variety of music it samples.  Vivo is impeccably titled because it is full of energy and life, a definite must-see.

Vivo is on Netflix. 

Grade:  A