Director: Kirk DeMicco and Brandon Jeffords
Writers: Kirk DeMicco and Quiara Alegría Hudes, Story by Peter Barsocchini and Quiara Alegría Hudes
Stars: Lin-Manuel Miranda, Ynairaly Simo, Zoe Saldana, Brian Tyree Henry, Nicole Byer, Gloria Estefan
Plot: A music-loving kinkajou embarks on the journey of a lifetime to fulfill his destiny and deliver a love song for an old friend.
Lin-Manuel Miranda’s career has been on the up and up ever since his huge broadway hit of In The Heights, and his climb has only gotten steeper since the release of Hamilton in 2016. This year poses another huge opportunity for him, with his debut musical getting adapted into a film, his involvement with writing the music for Disney’s upcoming film Encanto, and his directorial debut with tick, tick… BOOM! also getting released this year. His latest venture in film to be released is none other than Netflix’s Vivo. Produced by Sony Animations, the same studio that brought you Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, Vivo is an entertaining casual viewing experience for the entire family, even if the story feels familiar and it doesn’t always reach the emotional heights or character depths that you want it to.
As the voice of the titular character Vivo, Miranda starts the film with a catchy and fun song that’ll grab your attention instantly. The animation sequence is well choreographed and constantly moving, daring you to look away from the screen and asking the viewer to just have a good time. As the story starts to pick up a bit, it’s easy to get connected to Vivo and his emotional journey. He already goes through so much in the first act that really sets the story into gear, it’s hard not to be invested and interested in what happens to him next. It’s a strong opener to a film that is good enough to keep you sustained throughout the slower and more predictable second act that follows.
The introduction of Vivo’s “sidekick” is where the film starts to fall into typical family film tropes. Partnered with a young girl from Florida, it feels strange to call the monkey Vivo the main character, and the young human girl Gabi the sidekick, but to me that’s really how the film tries to present itself. Gabi gets a fun and energetic introduction song before she and Vivo set off on their quest, running into everything you can imagine from an unlikely friendship blossoming from a journey together kind of movie. From the strong first act, we know why Vivo is on this mission, but the film severely lacks in giving Gabi’s reason for accompanying him on this journey other than her quirky and different personality. Her motivations are definitely cloudy for a majority of the film, but as long as you don’t expect too much, nevertheless, it’s a pleasant watch to sit through. The film drags the most in this section, suffering slightly from entirely absurd, unrealistic, and forgettable villains, and short snippets of a few side quests. They’re not exactly unenjoyable, it just takes a large suspension of disbelief on top of the already large amount required to fully buy into this animated film.
Despite the slow second act, the resolution does it’s job in ending the film in a satisfying way. Trying to wrap up the film feels like a bit of a challenge after the more predictable and mundane majority of it, and the plot continues to go exactly where you expect it to for the last half hour, but it still completes its job at giving Vivo a good conclusion to his story. I wouldn’t say I was necessarily moved emotionally, but for those who are willing to fully give themselves to this film, it’s bound to set a few flutters in your heart.
While Miranda didn’t write the score for the film, he did pen the songs that are sung throughout. They still have his typical hip-hop with a touch of broadway flare to the tone, but they also incorporate a bit of Cuban inspiration, where the film initially starts and the characters are from. In the context of the film they blend in so seamlessly and flow perfectly with the story, but after the resolution, it’s hard to remember any of them, with only one really standing out to me. There’s no catchy tune that will be stuck in your head that you’ll be humming for days afterwards, but there are also no moments where the songs feel agonizing to sit through.
If you’re looking for something to watch with the youngsters for a family movie night, Vivo is a great choice. It’s enjoyable, and it thankfully doesn’t require too much attention to follow along with. It doubles as a great casual watch to turn on in the background, or something to keep the kids occupied for an hour and a half. While it probably won’t stick with you very long, or deeply impact you in a sense that you’ll be thinking about it for a few days afterwards, Vivo is a fun little journey and a more light addition to Miranda’s library of work. It might be predictable or even forgettable, but it’s not a bad time either.