Vivo is fun for kids but offers little else for the older crowd.
Vivo (2021) Review By Mark McPherson
Published on August 26, 2021
Rating 2.5 /5
Vivo is an animated musical adventure that certainly has all the necessary components of a pleasing picture for the wee ones. You’ve got Lin-Manuel Miranda busting out lyrics, exaggerated characters, the colorful burst latino culture, and features plenty of funny animals and a relatable kid character with great eccentricity. All the components are present. The way they are weaved, however, feels like a routine route for an animated picture.
Developed by Sony, it was a tad surprising to see such a rising studio present this picture. At first, there’s great exuberance to the film. Opening in Havana, we’re introduced to the duo of the guitar player Andrés Hernández (Juan de Marcos González) and his pal Vivo (Miranda), a dancing and squeaking kinkajou. No human can understand the animal but that doesn’t stop the hat-wearing singer from belting out tunes only he can hear (maybe some surrounding animals). Life sure does seem sweet for the musical pair who spend their days entertaining on the streets and making just enough to live on in Cuba.
Vivo later learns that Andrés’s old friend and crush Marta is due to make her big debut in America and has invited Andrés to visit her. Andrés is unsure, however, considering he let his feelings for Marta remain unknown for her own benefit of letting her career soar. He aims to finally confess his love for such a woman and prepares to make the trip, complete with a song that will finally complete his emotional expression for this woman who always remained in his heart. Well, he would. Vivo awakens one morning to find that Andrés has passed away. Heartbroken, Vivo aims to do right by his musical friend and get that song to Marta.
Vivo’s adventure to the states finds him reluctantly teaming up with the high-energy and big-ego of the kid Gabi (Ynairaly Simo), a relative of Andrés who visits Cuba during the funeral. Gabi is the last person Vivo wants help from considering that Gabi is a clumsy girl who goes to the beat of her own drum (as explained in her first song). As they journey through the swamps and cities, however, Vivo learns that Gabi is in a similar situation. She lost her dad at an early age and is trying to find her place in the world when she feels she just doesn’t fit in.
This is an animated film with its heart certainly in the right place. It’s easy to feel the heartache of Vivo and the desire to break up with Gabi. The music is also not too shabby either. None of it is all that memorable but the lyrics have a great flow, especially with Miranda busting out fast lyrics with fantastic energy. The problem is that the road to such tenderness is one of mundane slapstick and asides.
I did appreciate the showcasing of varied animals not as common to animated films, as with a pair of roseate spoonbills played by Brian Tyree Henry and Nicole Byer. I just wish the adventure didn’t have to stop so that Vivo could help them become a romantic couple. I like the idea of Michael Rooker playing a villainous python but his desire to eat up Vivo feels like more of a distraction than a progression of his journey, making the focus of family and music dissipate.
The other human characters are rather simplistic. Gabi’s mother (Zoe Saldana) is a concerned but frazzled mother who finds herself frantically trying to find her kid and be a good mom. Marta is an all-loving celebrity who seems to not only be welcoming of Vivo but willing to understand his mission. Gabi’s nemesis of competing girl scouts falls short in trying to pose the popular kids who are both snobby in their group mentality and annoying in their pushing for environmentalism, which really creates some mixed signals.
Vivo is fun for kids but offers little else for the older crowd. There’s just enough color, music, and heart that it’s likely the younger crowd will be pleasantly entertained. For the adults who have sat through a slew of animated adventures, however, there’s little that this film has to offer aside from some decent songs. For a small studio, this would be fine but considering this comes from Sony (Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse, The Mitchells vs. The Machines), it feels like there should be more.
Mark has been a professional film critic for over five years and a film lover all his life.