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+



Gloria Estefan as Marta Sandoval

In celebration of the reopening of live theatre in St. Louis and their 35th Anniversary Season,
STAGES St. Louis has announced their 2022 Season will feature the regional premiere of the Tony-Award
Winning IN THE HEIGHTS, music and lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda and book by Quiara Alegría Hudes.

IN THE HEIGHTS is a vital and thrilling musical about the American Dream set in the vibrant NYC
neighborhood of Washington Heights. Exploring the hopes and dreams of family, community, and more,
the production is a perfect fit for the STAGES mission and audience.

Before there was HAMILTON, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s IN THE HEIGHTS took Broadway by storm, winning the
Tony Award for Best Musical, as well as the Grammy Award for Best Musical Show Album. An acclaimed film
adaptation, directed by Jon M. Chu and starring Anthony Ramos, was released this past weekend.

“We are beyond excited about presenting IN THE HEIGHTS at STAGES in 2022. I can’t think of a better
show to be a part of our first full season at the Kirkwood Performing Arts Center. Everything about this
beautiful and melodic musical speaks to the stories that STAGES so loves to tell,” said Mosbacher Family
Executive Producer Jack Lane.

On its Broadway opening in 2008, The New York Times raved, “When this musical erupts in one of its
expressions of collective joy, the energy it gives off could light up the George Washington Bridge for a year
or two.” That energy will no doubt be alive and thriving on The Ross Family Theatre stage at the Kirkwood
Performing Arts Center in 2022.

STAGES St. Louis will announce the remainder of their 2022 Season later this summer. In the meantime,
tickets for STAGES 35th Anniversary Season, featuring the fan-favorite production of ALWAYS… PATSY
CLINE (August 6 – September 5) and the STAGES premiere of JERSEY BOYS (September 24 – October 24)
are on sale now. You can purchase two-show subscriptions or single tickets by visiting their website at
StagesStLouis.org or by calling the Box Office at 314.821.2407.

For more information, please follow STAGES on Facebook and Instagram or visit the organization’s website.
STAGES St. Louis is the region’s foremost not-for-profit company committed to preserving and advancing
the art form of Musical Theatre through excellence in performance and education. In 2021, STAGES
celebrates its 35th year of producing Broadway-quality theatre, as well as the grand opening of our new
home, the $25 Million Kirkwood Performing Arts Center.

STAGES Performing Arts Academy is regionally renowned for its innovative and multi-disciplinary programs
that transform lives through immersion in the Musical Theatre arts. Celebrating its 16th year, it is also the
only such program in the St. Louis region to be connected to a professional theatre company.


For more information on the Academy or to register today please call 636.449.5775 or visit us online at
www.StagesStLouis.org.Two-show subscription and single tickets for the 2021 Season are on sale now. For more information,
please call 314.821.2407 or visit www.StagesStLouis.or