Despite a noticeable lack of advertising push, Sony Animation’s Vivo is a colorful, emotional, and utterly profound family film. When I started watching on Netflix, I figured I was essentially in store for an animated In the Heights—instead, Vivo feels much more Coco. I did not realize just how deeply I needed a feel-good musical until the wonderful melodies began unraveling. Directors Kirk DeMicco and Brandon Jeffords, who worked on films like Quest for Camelot, The Croods, and The Mitchells vs. The Machines, have truly crafted a special, bombastic, mid-Summer treat.
In the heart of Cuba, elderly Andrés (Juan de Marcos González) and his musically-connected buddy Vivo (Lin-Manuel Miranda), a delightful, little drum and flute-playing kinkajou, make a modest living locally playing passionate street performances. They have “a perfect life” together until a letter arrives from Marta (Gloria Estefan), Andrés’ past love, that changes everything. A world-famous singer, Marta is preparing for retirement, and she pleads with Andrés to come sing for her farewell show in Miami at the legendary Mambo Cabana. Andrés never revealed his true feelings to Marta in the past, as he wanted her to follow her heart and dreams. Vivo is against leaving their Cuban home for a big city, but Andrés already has his mind made up.
After this, things take a tragic turn, with Vivo committed to delivering Marta the biggest message that Andrés never could: a meaningful love letter in the form of a song. Getting to Miami, however, is easier said than done. A perfect opportunity presents itself rather suddenly when a purple-haired music-obsessed little girl, Gabi (Ynairaly Simo), takes interest in Vivo. Gabi has no interest in blending in with the crowd, which she blatantly declares in uproarious song “My Own Drum,” complete with an epic recorder solo. An adorable pet is just what she has always wanted.
Vivo smuggles his way into her luggage. When she finds him inside, Gabi screams in happiness. Gabi hears Vivo’s talking as just chittering, but that does not stop the duo from teaming up to attempt to deliver the song Andrés has crafted before Marta’s big farewell show. Their end goal is the Mambo Cabana. Along the way, they are faced with all manner of crazy hijinks, including an Everglades encounter with a sinister snake named Lutador, annoying Girl Scouts who think you “have the blood of Mother Nature on your hands” if you use plastic bags, and quirky birds in the throes of “dating season.”
I have a hard time imagining anyone not cracking a smile at this joyous celebration of life. Two amazing bonds are formed in this film: that between Gabi and Vivo, as well as the foundation on which everything is built, the one between Vivo and Andrés. “One of a Kind” opens Vivo with personality, doubling as a backstory for Vivo and Andrés. Gabi, as a character, could have easily been an annoying caricature, so I am thankful that special attention was paid to ensuring her peppy personality comes with a soft exterior. The most vital to nail down is Vivo himself, and luckily, the rainforest “honey bear” is lovable to his very core.
Brimming with memorable, catchy songs as only Lin Manuel-Miranda could write them, it is beyond difficult to pick only one as the shining star. “Inside Your Heart” is the most lyrically complex, and it is this song that made me want to immediately download the soundtrack. Vivo delivers big heartfelt moments on a Pixar level, including at least one sequence that brought me to tears, and relatable notes of realism in character arcs. Bravo, Sony Animation—you have knocked it out of the park once again!
Vivo comes straight from Cuba into your heart when it debuts on Netflix on Friday, August 6th.