By Lynn Venhaus
A vibrant mix of bright colors and snappy Latin beats, the animated musical adventure “Vivo” pops with personality.
Set in Havana, Miami and the Everglades, this computer-generated effort from Sony Pictures Animation features multi-level humor and a cadre of lively characters to amuse. Most delightful is how it will tug on your heartstrings, and does so genuinely, not in a manipulative way.
Vivo, a Cuban kinkajou — a tropical rainforest mammal in the same family as a raccoon, known as a ‘honey bear,” spends his days playing music to the Plaza Vieja crowds in Havana with his beloved owner Andres.
The elderly Andres, once part of a musical duo with Marta Sandoval, receives a letter from the now-famous singer inviting him to her farewell concert in Miami. She wants to reconnect, and she is his ‘the one that got away.’ Vivo’s mission is to deliver a love letter to Marta, reluctantly teaming up with Gabi, an energetic tween who bounces to the beat of her own offbeat drum.
At its heart is the incomparable Lin-Manuel Miranda, voicing Vivo with customary charm. He wrote the tuneful score, a captivating swirl of salsa beats, peppy percussion, rap lyrics and emotion-filled ballads.
The much-honored Miranda, whose first animated musical was Disney’s “Moana,” brings his trademark energy and unmistakable writing style to this work, with such memorable songs as “Keep the Beat” and “My Own Drum” playing on a loop in your head post-viewing.
Vivo’s look, with a jaunty little hat and scarf, adds to the character’s appeal, and the other characters he meets along his journey are just as vivid. Because of circumstances, the rapping, flute-playing, music-loving creature reluctantly teams up with Gabi, a spirited maverick tween, with purple hair and a quirky wardrobe, who soon wins over all the outsiders of the world.
Newcomer Ynairaly Simo shines as Gabi, and the voice cast is well-suited for their roles. Gloria Estefan is diva Marta Sandoval, dazzling in shimmering aqua; Zoe Saldana is Rosa, Gabi’s exasperated mother; and Latin musician Juan de Marcos González is Vivo’s kind owner Andres.
In Key West, amid the blazing hot pinks and cool aqua tones, we find the goofy spoonbill Dancarino, voiced by Brian Tyree Henry, and in the dark and foreboding Everglades, Michael Rooker is effectively creepy as the villainous python Lutador.
Co-directors Kirk DeMicco, creator of “The Croods,” and Brandon Jeffords, known for his work on “The Mitchells vs. The Machines,” “Hotel Transylvania 2” and “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2,” put the characters through vigorous paces and propel the action logically through a zippy 99 minutes.
While this might not be as ground-breaking as Sony’s Oscar-winning “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” or this year’s outstanding “The Mitchells vs. The Machines,” “Vivo” has plenty of pizzazz to entertain.
It’s visually attractive, capturing the tropical feel – and notable is a funny sequence with pink flamingos. Legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins was a visual consultant.
The screenplay, by DeMicco and “In the Heights” co-writer Quiara Alegría Hudes, with story by Peter Barsocchini, of “High School Musical” fame, has smartly created emotional bonds between the characters and injected humor in a natural way.
In animation, next up for golden-boy Miranda is Disney’s “Encanto,” out Nov. 24, featuring his music and lyrics. Indeed, his future is bright.
But as for the present, his winning combination of voicing Vivo and writing the uplifting music and lyrics is one of the summer’s sweetest smiles.
“Vivo” is a 2021 animated musical from Sony Pictures Animation co-directed by Kirk DeMicco and Brandon Jeffords. Voice work is by Lin-Manuel Miranda, Ynairaly Simo, Zoe Saldana and Gloria Estefan. It’s rated PG for some thematic elements and mild action and has a run time of 1 hour, 39 minutes. It is streaming on Netflix beginning Aug. 6. Lynn’s Grade: B+
Lynn Venhaus has had a continuous byline in St. Louis metro region publications since 1978. She is a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, currently reviews films for Webster-Kirkwood Times and KTRS Radio, covers entertainment for PopLifeSTL.com and co-hosts podcast PopLifeSTL.com…Presents, and writes features and news for Belleville News-Democrat and contributes to other publications. She is a member of CCA, AWFJ and St. Louis Film Critics Association. She is a founding member of the St. Louis Theater Circle.