Review by Sean Boelman
2021 truly is the year of Lin-Manuel Miranda, as the cinematic adaptation of his Broadway musical In the Heights was released to great acclaim, and that is only his first of four projects coming out this year. Next on the slate is Vivo, an animated musical from Sony Pictures Animation, and while it can be a bit too conventional at times, it’s an altogether charming family film.
The movie follows a musically talented kinkajou (also known as a “honey bear”) who travels from Cuba to Miami to deliver a love song to the love of his owner’s life. First and foremost, this is a love letter to Cuban musicians, and the level of respect that the film has for this culture is absolutely exceptional.
Miranda’s eponymous tropical mammal is a surprisingly wonderful protagonist. Feeling like much more than an attempt to sell stuffed toys (although don’t be surprised to see honey bear plushies popping up on store shelves regardless), the movie gives the character a very compelling and emotional arc while, of course, doubling down on the adorable factor.
Miranda’s performance in the leading role is just as strong as one would expect given his past body of work. However, it is the supporting cast that steals the spotlight. Newcomer Ynairaly Simo threatens to steal Miranda’s thunder on more than one occasion, and there is an absolutely show-stopping turn from Gloria Estefan.
The opening musical number is absolutely spectacular, offering some of the most magical moments that any kids’ movie has had in a very long time. Unfortunately, the remaining hour of the film isn’t as breathtaking, as it’s a pretty by-the-numbers (albeit infectiously energetic) animated adventure.
It will not be surprising to viewers that the soundtrack is full of Miranda’s usual Latin and hip-hop-inspired songs, and they’re definitely very catchy. However, there is no denying that a lot of Miranda’s work is starting to sound similar to each other, and especially in a year where he is putting out so much content, he’s going to need to start messing with the formula a bit.
There is a lot of visual energy in the animation, and that will help keep audiences — especially younger ones — invested in the story, even during its more generic portions. There are a few musical sequences that are right on the edge of going overboard, but for the most part, it’s all good fun.
Vivo is definitely a very good animated movie to check out with the family this Spring. Although the film borrows a lot from stories we already know, strong execution all-around makes this extremely enjoyable.
Vivo hits Netflix on August 6.