“Vivo” – Sony’s new animated movie featuring original songs by Lin-Manuel Miranda – has been ten years in the making. It got picked up in 2010 by DreamWorks, then was dropped, then got picked up again by Sony in 2016, which scheduled its release for 2020. But 2020 was not a good year for movie releases – or anything, really – so Sony moved the date again and again until, viola, here we are in August 2021, and the movie is finally out.
So “Vivo,” which is, in a way, a movie about a journey to the big show, finally made it to the big show. It begins as a tale about Andrés (Juan de Marcos Gonzalez), an aging street musician living in Havana, Cuba, and his partner, Vivo (Lin-Manuel Miranda), who is a spunky little kinkajou (looks like a little monkey). Andrés and Vivo make their living playing music together in the plaza.
Life is simple, but good. It gets more complicated, though, when Andrés receives a letter from the world-famous singer, Marta (Gloria Estefan). Unbeknownst to Vivo, Marta and Andrés used to be partners. Andrés was in love with Marta, but didn’t tell her, because he didn’t want to get in the way of her meteoric rise to fame. Sadly, their paths split.
But now, many years later, Andrés opens Marta’s letter and learns that she wants to reunite. She’s doing a farewell concert in Miami, and she wants Andrés to join her there.
Andrés hesitates, but only a little. He realizes this is his “second chance.” He has a song that he wrote for Marta long ago, in which he expresses his undying love for her, that he plans to finally give her in Miami.
Vivo is less into the idea of leaving Cuba, though he finally relents. But when Vivo goes to tell Andrés he’ll go, he finds that his beloved partner has passed away. Overwhelmed and grief-stricken, Vivo makes it his mission to deliver Andrés’ song to Marta.
This proves difficult. Kinkajous, it seems, cannot travel freely between Cuba and the U.S. Vivo finds a little girl – Andrés’ grand-niece, Gabi (Ynairaly Simo) – who will take him to Florida, but she’s unpredictable and reckless (though admirably spirited), so she is as much of an impediment as an accomplice to Vivo’s mission.
Then comes a flurry of characters – uptight girl scouts, love birds, a snake and Gabi’s understandably worried mother – which complicate Vivo and Gabi’s mad dash to Marta’s show in Miami.
This movie is so Lin-Manuel Miranda. Which is a good thing. Most of the songs are beautifully constructed, fun and lively – it feels like a kid’s “Hamilton” with more wildlife, fewer tri-corner hats and equal amounts of tongue-twisting wit.
However, I also can’t help but mourn what this movie could have been. It is pretty funny, pretty engaging and, at times, pretty moving. But it could have been so much more. It’s like watching a gymnast do a beautiful triple double jump only to see her stumble on the landing.
Take, for example, a scene toward the end in which Gabi chokes up saying that she wants to help let Marta know that Andres loved her because she never got a chance to tell her dad (who died a while back) how much she loved him. What a dagger, right? We should all be sobbing. Except that, until that moment, we only have a vague sense that her dad died, and we have almost no sense that it is on Gabi’s mind.
Compare that to a moment in Pixar’s “Onward” when the older brother reluctantly confides in his younger brother that he has a fourth memory of their late dad (we thought it was only three): when he was too scared by the tubes and wires in his dad’s hospital room to say goodbye to him. This moment had set up – we heard multiple times about the brother only having three memories of his dad. And it comes with context and detail that makes the moment come alive. Now there’s a dagger! Commence sobbing.
It’s tough not to imagine what “Vivo” could have been in the hands of Pixar. It’s not just the scene with Gabi – little stumbles on the dismount are all over the movie.
Which isn’t to say that this movie isn’t good. It is. Again, it’s like watching a beautiful triple double jump. Perhaps it would be understandable, and certainly forgivable, to just overlook the dismount.
“Vivo” is rated PG for some thematic elements and mild action.