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‘Vivo’ a fun, family-friendly animated musical

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Anyone who’s paid even a little attention to popular culture in the past few years has a pretty good sense of what Lin-Manuel Miranda brings to the table. Between the filmed version of his musical triumph “Hamilton” last year and the movie adaptation of his previous work “In the Heights,” we’ve gotten a lot of Lin-Manuel.

But what if I told you you could have even more? Specifically, an animated musical about a singing kinkajou?

Yeah, I’m into it too.

“Vivo,” from Sony Animation, is currently streaming in Netflix. Directed by Kirk DeMicco and Brandon Jeffords from a screenplay by DeMicco and Quiara Alegria Hudes – not to mention original songs by Miranda – it’s a charming and heartfelt story about the lengths to which we will go to do right by the people who mean the most to us.

The animation is lovely, with some wonderful stylistic flourishes, and the narrative is sweetly simple. The film also features a strong voice cast, led by Miranda as the titular Vivo, and you only need to hear a few bars of the opening number to be VERY aware of who wrote the songs. With themes of love – both romantic and familial – and the difficulty of loss, it is a movie that offers all-ages appeal.

In Havana, a kinkajou named Vivo (Miranda) works alongside his guardian, an elderly man named Andres (musician Juan de Marcos Gonzalez), busking in a plaza near their modest apartment. It’s a lovely life – Vivo plays and sings (though humans can’t understand him) with Andres, then passes the hat. It’s a simple life, but a satisfying one.

One day, Andres receives a letter. It’s a missive from the legendary singer Marta Sandoval (Gloria Estefan); as it turns out, in her early days, she and Andres were musical collaborators. Andres was in love with her, but never told her because he didn’t want her to pass up an opportunity for fame in the U.S. on his behalf. Marta has invited Andres to join her in Miami and perform with her one last time at her farewell concert. A delighted Andres embraces the idea of the second chance, showing Vivo the song that he wrote for her back when she flew off to fame and fortune.

But it is not to be.

Andres passes away in the night, leaving Vivo alone. The kinkajou decides that he will make his way to Miami himself in order to honor his friend’s wishes. Opportunity presents itself when relatives of Andres – Rosa (Zoe Saldana, “Vampires vs. the Bronx”) and her daughter Gabi (Ynairaly Simo in her feature debut) – come to the memorial service; Vivo stows away with them and winds up in Florida.

As it turns out, Gabi is a young lady who very much marches to the beat of her own drum (there’s even a whole song about it); after some initial conflict, Vivo manages to help Gabi understand what he’s trying to do and she agrees to help.

What follows is a long and chaotic journey, one that sees Vivo and Gabi trying to avoid a variety of obstacles. There’s the trio of Sand Dollar Girls (a Girl Scouts analogue) that wants to force Gabi back into their ranks and put Vivo into quarantine, for instance. And once they make their way into the Everglades, they must avoid threats like the noise-hating snake Lutador (Michael Rooker, “The Suicide Squad”) while also making time for such distractions as serving as a Cyrano for a dim-witted spoonbill named Dancarino (Brian Tyree Henry, “The Woman in the Window”) in his pursuit of Valentina (Nicole Byer, TV’s “Nailed It!”).

All the while, the clock is ticking down toward Marta’s farewell performance, which is their only real chance to deliver the song to its rightful recipient.

“Vivo” is a brightly-colored good time, bouncy and buoyant. There’s a wonderful stylishness to the animation, with some moments of flourish that add an added layer of fun to the proceedings. Moments of contrast are provided by flashes of traditional 2D animation mixed in with the rounder 3D of the majority of the movie.

The songs, unsurprisingly, slap. It’s worth noting that they are very much of a piece with Lin-Manuel Miranda’s fundamental style, so if what he does isn’t for you, you might struggle with some of these tunes. The opening number “One of a Kind” is a toe-tapper, to be sure; the sort of hip-hop-tinged patter tune at which Miranda excels. The song “My Own Drum” is distinctive and idiosyncratic (in a good way), while tunes like “Tough Crowd” and “Love’s Gonna Pick You Up” also stand out.

(I might as well note that I, being easily emotionally manipulated, got a little weepy in a couple of spots here. Even when I know my buttons are being pushed, I can’t help myself; that said, “Vivo” more or less earned my reaction.)

This kind of energetic goofiness is right in Miranda’s wheelhouse; he’s clearly having fun. No surprise there, considering this is a project that he had apparently been pitching for a decade before it got picked up. Still, Miranda’s trademark earnestness is front and center. Simo is very good as well, hanging in and handling the silliness with aplomb. The smaller, supporting turns – Saldana, Rooker, Henry, Byer – are all a hoot; Rooker in particular is a delightful surprise. Still, this is pretty much the Lin-Monkey Miranda Show.

“Vivo” engages with the idea of love and loss with sweetness and surprising honesty. Those parts of the film are the ones that work best; when it ventures into more hijinks-heavy territory, it loses a little of its impact. Still, it’s got interesting animation and some good songs, all folded into a family-friendly package. It’s not a great movie, but it’s a good one – the kind of movie that has a little something for everyone. You could do a heck of a lot worse.

Viva “Vivo.”

[4 out of 5]

Last modified on Wednesday, 11 August 2021 07:13

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