Set in the heart of Havana, Cuba, Vivo follows a kinkajou named Vivo (Lin-Manuel Miranda) who spends his days performing with his dear friend and beloved owner, Andres. When Andres receives a letter from his former flame, the famous Marta Sandoval (Gloria Estefan), he is overjoyed and plans to meet her in Miami, Florida for her final show. However, after tragedy strikes, Vivo takes it upon himself to make the trip and deliver one last love letter to Marta in the form of a song. In order to make the journey, Vivo must team up with Andres’ grand-neice Gabi (Ynairaly Simo), a creative young tween who is determined to express herself.
Written and directed by Kirk DeMicco, Vivo is a delightful animated story about what it means to celebrate life and individuality. Partnering with Lin-Manuel Miranda, DeMicco offers a story that elevates the cultural vibrancy and importance of the LatinX community, especially through its incredible music. With his own unique style, Miranda has carved out his own legacy in pop culture. As the creator of such iconic soundtracks as In The Heights, Moana and, of course, Hamilton, Miranda’s voice and style are recognizable and often leads to success. While Vivo will not offer any new instant classics (Beat of My Own Drum is easily the closest), the soundtrack certainly has enough bounce to entertain and keep the story driving forward. Miranda has a way of bringing the film’s local culture to life through music and he allows Cuba and Miami’s flavour to burst forth with vigour.
There’s more to Vivo though than just the music. Featuring some truly exceptional animation, every environment pops to life with vibrant colour. From the neon energy of Miami to the warm pastels of Cuba and the lush greens and blues of the Everglades, each segment has its own life-giving spirit and unique qualities, whether it’s the surrounding structures or wildlife. These vivacious spaces pop onscreen with life and are a treat for the eyes.
The film also features some fun performances, especially from young Ynairaly Simo as Gabi. As a girl who moves ‘to the beat of her own drum’, Gabi is a fiery young character. With joyful enthusiasm, Simo allows her individuality to shine while never losing her soul. Backed by some solid work by Zoe Saldana, Gloria Estefan and Michael Rooker, Simo is allowed to shine in virtually every scene. (Although, ironically, the performance that seems most flat might be Miranda who does his best but still somehow lacks as the rascally kapuchin, Vivo.)
Although Gabi’s journey within the film focuses on her own individuality, the heart of Vivo goes further than this. Instead of merely suggesting that everyone has value, the film also highlights the beauty that takes place when differing cultures and voices come together. Perhaps the best example of this comes in one particular scene when Gabi and Vivo are travelling through the Everglades. As they both sing in their own unique manners about their personal goals and frustrations, they eventually fall in sync with one another and create something new that honours them both. In moments like these, Vivo not only highlights the value of our differences but also showcases the beauty that can take place when we allow cultures and tones to unite.
Fun and fiery, Vivo is an absolute blast for kids and adults alike. Anchored by vibrant colours and music, DeMicco and Miranda have created another unique story that proves to have more substance than it first appears. By celebrating unique cultures and individuality, Vivo also points to an essential value for kids to learn: it’s okay to bounce to the beat of your own drum.
Vivo is available on Netflix on Friday, August 6th, 2021.