Pardon me while I spend a few paragraphs gushing about “Vivo,” which for my money is Lin-Manuel Miranda’s best musical outing of the summer.
Miranda, aka “He can do no wrong,” makes the first-ever Sony Animation musical a bubbly, tuneful, Cuba-centric/Florida flattering kiddie romp that surfs along to the lilting crooning of Gloria Estefan and “Buena Vista Social Club” alumnus Juan de Marcos González, and just bounces when Miranda’s English language Latin hip hop kicks in.
The man even makes auto-tune fun.
“Vivo” (Miranda) is a kinkajou who duets with organ-grinder/guitarist Andres (González) on the plazas of Havana, a Central American transplant who plays the flute, the bongos and the timbales. And if Andres can’t literally “understand” what the monkey is singing, at least he’s in tune and they’re in sync.
News that Andres’ long-long love, the singer Marta Sandoval (Estefan), who used to sing with him and then left for Miami, is giving her farewell concert, hass them making plans. He’s invited to the Miami show, and he’ll sing a song for her, “Para Marta,” and finally let her know of his love.
When Andres dies, Vivo makes delivering that song his mission. And in Andres’ irrepressible granddaughter, Gabi (Ynairaly Simo, a pistol) he has a co-conspirator, or would if her mother (Zoe Saldana) didn’t have a “no more pets” policy.
Vivo stows away with them to Key West, and when Gabi finds him (little girl SCREAMS of delight are just the best) and her grandfather’s song, she schemes to get them to that night’s concert.
Plan A, B, C and D go by the boards as they battle a bus driver and Burmese python, nature-protecting Sand Dollar (girl) Scouts and encounter just enough of Florida to scare off the tourists.
Miranda’s hand in the lyrics is everywhere, when the plucky kinkajou sings “All I have to do is sing louder than my fear,” laments to his lost friend Andres “You fell asleep humming music,” and when Gabi gets her sugared-up hip hop on for her big number, the (kiddie) club-ready romp “I BOUNCE to the beat of my own DRUM!”
The animation is lively, varied in technique (a fantasy 2D flashback has a romantic postcard feel) and brightly-colored, very much on brand with Sony Animation’s house style.
The script is a little thin, getting giggles out of Vivo stumbling into Gabi’s “petting zoo,” a graveyard of all the critters she’s had for pets and let die. Key West is cute and cruise-ship-infested. A little more Florida weirdness and wackiness on the way to Miami was in order.
The python chasing them through the lower Everglades is menacingly hissed by Michael Rooker, the daffy, lovelorn roseate spoonbills are voiced and sung byBrian Tyree Henry and Nicole Byer. And the nature-obsessed Sand Dollars let the screenwriters get in all sorts of shots at the Girl Scouts and their “cookies” without having to apologize.
But this sinks or swims on its songs, and Miranda as a busking/hustling/rhyme-spitting monkey makes it swim.
“Yeah, I’ve adapted to my habitat…If y’all like that, won’t you pass the hat?”
MPA Rating: PG for some thematic elements and mild action.
Cast: The voices of Lin-Manuel Miranda, Gloria Estefan, Zoe Saldana, Ynairaly Simo, Brian Tyree Henry, Juan de Marcos González and Michael Rooker
Credits: Directed by Kirk DeMicco and Brandon Jeffords, script by Quiara Alegría Hudes, Kirk DeMicco, music by Lin-Manuel Mirada and Alex Lacamoire. A Sony Animation film for Netflix.
Running time: 1:38