Written by: Robin C. Farrell | August 6th, 2021
Vivo (Kirk DeMicco/Brandon Jeffords, 2021) 3 out of 4 stars.
The latest release from Sony Pictures Animation, Vivo takes us to Havana, Cuba where we meet a singing and dancing kinkajou, the titular Vivo (Lin-Manuel Miranda, In the Heights) and his friend and owner, Andrés (noted Cuban musician Juan de Marcos). Together, they perform music daily in the crowded square. Everything changes, however, once Andrés receives a letter from his old friend and musical partner, Marta Sandoval (singer Gloria Estefan). She invites Andrés to her farewell concert in Miami but he’s unable to go and thus Vivo sets out for the Mambo Cabana instead. Along the way, Vivo gets derailed and, despite his misgivings, teams up with a spirited teen, Gabi (newcomer Ynairaly Simo), to see his mission through for Andrés.
Like The Mitchells vs. the Machines and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse before it, Vivo boasts absolutely stunning animation. The use of the “hand-drawn” style is gorgeous and always leaves you wanting more. The scope of the film is tremendous and conveys the perspectives of both Vivo and Gabi. As this is also a musical, the soundtrack is catchy and charming and the songs span a wide range of genres, all nested respectively within the film’s place and time and theme. The real magic occurs, though, when Vivo and Gabi harmonize, musically and narratively.
It’s worth noting, however, that this is a grief story, which hits unexpectedly hard. Moments in which multiple characters express regret and desperation reach Pixar levels of potency in their ability to conjure tears, thanks to the screenplay by co-director Kirk DeMicco (The Croods) and Quiara Alegría Hudes (In the Heights). Yet, at other times, the story careens sideways into side-quests, almost like a series of Odyssey-style vignettes, needing to overcome obstacles and, sometimes, literal monsters.
It doesn’t succeed in balancing the two styles; at least not fluidly. The antics and shenanigans feel at odds with the quieter, more mature arcs taking place. Major plot beats often strain credulity, even for an animated family film. The one exception to this might be Lutador (Michael Rooker, The Suicide Squad), a deliciously evil python entirely unnecessary to the plot but whose inclusion is enjoyable anyway, just for the tremendous animation (properly scary) and Rooker’s vocal performance.
Vivo is absolutely worth viewing but with caution, especially for viewers who, like me, are still sorting through their own grief, regardless of age. However, it’s a deeply emotional meditation on loss and love. Vivo also offers an opportunity for catharsis, largely because of Vivo and Gabi’s charisma, as well as the chance to laugh, sing, and quite possibly dance.