‘Vivo’ Is A Song And Dance About Not Very Much: Review

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The man behind 'Hamilton' meets the studio behind the 'Spider-Verse' for 'Vivo' a film that’s nothing like either.

★★✰✰✰

The man behind ‘Hamilton’ meets the studio behind the ‘Spider-Verse’ for ‘Vivo’ a film that’s nothing like either.

With Pixar’s increasingly inconsistent output showing little sign of sharpening up, there’s a gap in the market for quality cartoons. Can Sony Pictures Animation exploit it with their first ever musical? Lin Manuel Miranda writes 11 songs, sings many of them, and voice acts the title’s eponymous main character.

Andres (Juan de Marcos González) and his pet kinkajou Vivo (Lin-Manuel Miranda) are Cuban musicians making a living in Havana. An old friend, Marta (Gloria Estefan), invites the pair to attend her last ever concert in Miami, inspiring Andres to bring a song he never got to sing for her. But when Andres dies before leaving Cuba, it’s up to Vivo and his new music-mad friend Gabi to get the song to Miami.

Though I didn’t watch Vivo with kids present, the film has its U-rated box tickers, including bright colours, sugar-mountains of energy, and poppy visuals. But there are many more standards it hasn’t met. Let’s start with the Kinkajou, a small bear-like mammal native to South America. The dissonance over how such an animal ended up in Cuba is briefly acknowledged in the lyrics to the opening song, but is otherwise left unexplained. Indeed, the plotting makes several leaps that stretch credulity, such as when a troupe of mean-girl cookie sellers start a baffling bicycle chase because their leader is on an environmental crusade. Later the same girls manage to sail their way into the heart of the Florida Everglades, rescue Gabi, and take her and Vivo all the way to Miami, a case of we’ll take you wherever the narrative needs you to be. The pacing is also excessively frenetic, shunting up and down between action sequences and quieter moments at will. Then there’s the music.

One might’ve expected the kind of bland pop that permeates modern animated musicals like Frozen and Coco, and Vivo’s first number “One of a Kind” kicks off on that level. Only then it morphs into a Latin-tinged rap, with Lin Manuel Miranda’s superficial lyrics jumping out of the mix: “and if you like this song won’t you sing along” / “and if ya’ll like that won’t you pass the hat”, while his irksome tenor falls on the smug side of confidence. There are further missteps. During the Everglades section the narrative is interrupted for an amorous ode that includes the clunker “love’s gonna kick your butt and drag you round”. What was that doing here? Or the decision to have a child singer shout about her character’s individualism over electro-blasts. 

For a moment I considered whether I was too irritated by Miranda’s contemporary mien to appreciate Vivo’s vibe, but another animated musical that’s already been namedropped put pay to that notion. A couple of months ago I watched Coco, a Pixar movie about a young Mexican guitarist who dreams of emulating his great grandfather. Though it wasn’t close to the studio’s best, and though I didn’t care much for its songs either, it had far more going for it. A poignant story that reiterated Pixar’s favourite motifs; world-building that lived and breathed through a Day of the Dead-inspired afterlife; flashes of beautiful animation—its depictions of guitar-playing a showcase of the form’s potential to amaze. And there’s something else too. Characterful, heart-warming, compassionate, those are the adjectives you want to accompany the energy and colours in family entertainment. None are present in Miranda’s brash music or in his equally brash vocal performance, and that puts pay to this Sony film.

The Verdict

Something to occupy young children with for 90 minutes, but parents will be looking for their own distraction. Which, given this is a Netflix release, will be easier to find. Otherwise of interest only to Lin Manuel Miranda enthusiasts and fans of dislocated South American mammals in animated cinema.  

Words by Alex Crisp


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