Forget about Alexander Hamilton. As a new animated musical Vivo makes it clear that Lin-Manuel Miranda was born to play a kinkajou.
The kinkajou is a rainforest mammal also known as the “honey bear”, but more like a monkey. In real life, the kinkajou isn’t exactly cozy. It is known to be easily frightened and aggressive. But none of that will mind the little boys who will ask for stuffed versions of the adorable title character voiced by Miranda in this charming attempt to which he also contributed 11 original songs.
The bottom line
A kinkajou star is born.
It’s a shame that Vivo, which premieres in theaters on August 6 on Netflix after a limited bow, is not getting its intended theatrical opening to more viewers as it features beautiful, eye-catching imagery that would have benefited from the big screen. Two-time Oscar-winning cinematographer Roger Deakins (1917, Blade Runner 2049) served as a visual advisor, a job he previously did for such beautifully crafted animated films Wall-E and the How to train your Kite Trilogy.
The story begins in Havana, a city so charmingly picturesque and colorful that it already seems animated in real life. There we meet the elderly street singer AndrÃ©s (Juan de Marcos GonzÃ¡lez of the Buena Vista Social Club) and his kinkajou partner Vivo, who spend their days playing music in a crowded urban square in front of a grateful audience.
Her life is turned upside down when AndrÃ©s receives a letter from his former musical colleague, now famous singer Marta Sandoval (Gloria Estefan, another example of clever casting) inviting him to her upcoming farewell concert in Miami. The night before his departure, AndrÃ©s dies, who has secretly fallen in love with Marta. So it is up to the intrepid Vivo to convey the farewell message from its owner, a love song, to the woman who AndrÃ©s never said that she loves him too.
To start the journey, Vivo enlists the help of Gabi (Ynairaly Simo), the tween daughter of AndrÃ©s’ niece (Zoe Saldana), who smuggles him into the States in one of her pockets. Once in Key West, Gabi advises Vivo to hold back. “When someone asks, you are my emotional support,” she tells him. It’s just one of many amusing lines in the script that director Kirk DeMicco co-wrote (The Croods) and Quiara AlegrÃa Hudes (In the heights). Another is Vivo’s amused reaction to the state’s signature flamingo lawn ornaments: âPlastic birds? Florida is weird! “
From there, as with so many animated films, Vivo gets more than a little frenetic. The duo tries to get through the Everglades to Miami and get into numerous death defying mishaps with a pair of helpful spoonbills (Brian Tyree Henry, Nicole Byer), a voracious giant python (Michael Rooker, born to play villains in animations) and a trio of wild girl scouts (Katie Lowes, Olivia Trujillo, Lidya Jewett).
All the chaos is certainly alive, but the real joys of the film come from its touching plot and Miranda’s great songs that include Latin American rhythms, hip-hop, pop and Broadway-style ballads. Animation seems like the perfect form for Miranda to deliver his quick rapping, much like there’s a hilarious visual correlate for Robin Williams’ stream-of-consciousness comedy routines in. depicted Aladdin.
The hyperactive Vivo bounces from one end of the screen to the other, its frenzied physical movements happily keeping up with the rhymes emanating from Miranda’s vocal cords. It doesn’t hurt that the little animal figure is so appealing, its furry little body with a straw hat that sits cheerfully on its head.
The computer-animated visuals of the film, which vividly reproduce places like Cuba, Key West and the Everglades, are always captivating. But the upbeat music numbers and the sentimental but never sticky story in the center make it up Vivo such a winning attempt.