Vivo (MOVIE REVIEW)
Runtime: 99 Minutes
Director: Kirk DeMicco
Cast: Lin-Manuel Miranda, Ynairaly Simo, Zoe Saldana, Juan de Marcos Gonzalez
It’s been quite a while since a film from a major animation studio other than Disney has gone out of their way to make a big spectacle musical. Whether it may be a creative choice to differentiate themselves from the House of Mouse or because there’s fear of there not being a market for it, one of the most refreshing things to come from Sony Animation’s Vivo is how it makes for a refreshing return to the musical genre in animation with the collaboration of Lin-Manuel Miranda. Under the leadership of Croods director Kirk DeMicco and a creative team of Miranda’s Broadway buddies, Vivo works at its absolute best when it uses music to entertain, enlighten and tell a strong message about how songs can change one’s worldview. But while some of the film’s weak screenwriting mainly consisting of contrived story clichés and childish humour stop it from reaching its full potential, it’s Miranda’s musical genius and the heart behind the narrative that will make this a memorable viewing for families this summer.
Vivo follows the titular character who is a South American mammal called a Kinkajou. He’s an animal who lives his days in Cuba with his owner, Andres, an elderly musician who connected with Vivo through his love for all things music. When tragedy strikes following the delivery of a letter from Andres’ former friend who he secretly had feelings for, Vivo makes it his task to deliver his owner’s love letter in the form of a romantic song to Miami, Florida. With the help of Andres' great niece, Gabi, the two set out on a grand adventure across the Florida Everglades to make it to Miami in time, while learning along the way how much the power of music can change the world.
Considering this is an animated film with Lin-Manuel Miranda’s involvement, the first thing most audience members will notice turning this film on will have to be his witty and catchy music. Being Sony Pictures Animation’s first musical, what he’s brought to this movie is easily it’s best asset. The film introduces you to the titular character through an opening song that sets the mood perfectly and also links to the film’s theme of music very early on into the story. A road trip movie about two characters going on a quest to deliver something is certainly nothing new, but with how music simply as an artform is used to motivate Vivo to deliver the love song on behalf of his owner makes it clear how that aspect motivates everything that happens in this story. In Vivo, music is not only used as a supplement for great beats and good vibes, but to also demonstrate how it can be used as a means of healing. How love for music can perhaps change one’s perspective on life and also bring others together in new ways just based on their love for the art. Considering this movie is about a song-loving Kinkajou from Cuba, making this a musical feels like a stroke of genius, and this also translates beautifully to the animation in the film too. This is a very colourful film, full of tons of vibrancy and distinctive character designs, but another great aspect is how the animation styles will change sometimes with certain song numbers. Moments such as these fit perfectly with the film since it demonstrates how music can take others to places of nostalgia and when the film melds these two concepts of music and visuals together, it can make for an amazing spectacle.
But while it can be easy to praise Vivo for its music and its presentation, where the film unfortunately stumbles is in its writing. The film, to be fair, has a solid albeit mildly formulaic premise involving Vivo teaming up with Gabi to traverse the Florida Everglades to deliver the love song to Andre’s old flame. Despite being slightly cliché in how it uses its buddy film tropes, it’s all in the execution where one could take a tired idea and meld it into something new, but this film sadly doesn’t really go there. When the film isn’t focused squarely on the music or the heart behind the story itself, Vivo stumbles into a lot of the questionable kids' film territory that stops it from reaching its full potential. Vivo and Gabi make for an alright pairing for this adventure, but once they go on their quest in the Everglades, the film becomes less about the musical angle and more along the lines of a weak talking animal comedy. The film is consistently driven by annoying contrivances in the script to add an unnecessary amount of stakes that aren’t really needed, and it all feels frustrating at times because it prevents Vivo from reaching its full potential. It’s a film that is completely brought to life by its songs and just the style and flair of it all so when the story doesn’t work all that much particularly for the second act it only makes things feel disappointing. But thankfully, the film does pick itself up and when the film draws closer to the third act, it returns to pure greatness, not only featuring great songs as before but a true sense of poignancy that feels justified and earned. It’s just a bit of a rocky road for a film like Vivo to reach that level of excellence but when it does it feels truly earned.
Vivo was a slightly frustrating movie not because it’s bad (far from it in fact), but because the picture sometimes conforms to the clichés found in other kids' movies that prevent it from being at its best. As a musical, the film is great, providing catchy and compelling songs that can only be provided by a genius like Lin-Manuel Miranda but when it’s not squarely focused on its music or message, it’s just a bit too formulaic to be anything truly spectacular. On the whole, when a film like this has so many great moments sprinkled over the occasional mediocrity, it’s hard not to be mad at a film like Vivo. When it isn’t trying to be like the average kids movie, it’s strong emotional beats and music are simply too good not to ignore, and that’s what makes it a solid recommendation overall. Take a trip to sunny Florida and check this one out for yourself.
FINAL RATING:- 6/10 (OKAY)