Vivo review: Sony’s animated spectacular is proof of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s talents

The Cuba and Miami-set film is fuelled by soaring musical numbers, an unruffled belief in love, and a commitment to tradition

Clarisse Loughrey
Monday 02 August 2021 08:42
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Vivo trailer

Dir: Kirk DeMicco. Starring: Lin-Manuel Miranda, Ynairaly Simo, Zoe Saldana, Juan de Marcos González, Gloria Estefan, Michael Rooker. U, 98 mins.

This year has presented us with a new and pressing question: exactly how much Lin-Manuel Miranda is too much Lin-Manuel Miranda? The actor-singer-songwriter-playwright currently has five separate projects all clustered within the same 12 months, as Hollywood’s executives attempt to milk every last drop from the great cultural teat that is Broadway’s Hamilton. It’s both a blessing and a curse for Miranda. He gets to enjoy being one of the chief driving forces of the movie musical genre, but has to contend with the ever-looming threat that a single slip-up will have his critics giddily lighting their torches.

In the Heights, accused though it was in some quarters of colourism, was generally welcomed as a triumph. But how will audiences feel about his directorial debut Tick, Tick... Boom!? What about Encanto, his post-Moana collaboration with Disney Animation, or the Rita Moreno documentary he produced? If we’re to take Vivo, the second Miranda project to hit UK shores in 2021, as any indication of the future, then Hollywood’s new King of Sincerity is here to stay. Sony’s animated spectacular – fuelled by soaring musical numbers, an unruffled belief in love, and a commitment to tradition – is proof that Miranda’s trademarks can easily be repackaged and shuffled between any number of studios and creative outlooks.

Here, he has the advantage of teaming back up with writer Quiara Alegría Hudes. They both worked on the stage production of In the Heights and its subsequent film adaptation. Their voices blend so effortlessly, and with such a distinctive flair, that Vivo really does feel like a child-friendly redux of their hit work – talking animals now included. There’s a dreaminess and a sense of collective desire that isn’t necessarily present in Hamilton. Here, we follow Vivo (Miranda), a kinkajou tasked with delivering a ballad from Cuba to Miami, so that two long-lost lovers (Juan de Marcos González and Gloria Estefan) can finally be reunited.

He can only do so with the aid of Gabi (Ynairaly Simo), a young, purple-haired Cuban-American who’s spent her brief time on Earth constantly being told to shrink herself down – to be less than she is. Thankfully, she doesn’t listen. She even gets her own earworm of a personal anthem, as she imagines a trio of dead pets – her room contains a miniature graveyard – rising up to join her bass-backed chorus of “I bounce to the beat of my own drum”. At first, Gabi and Vivo fall into a classic odd couple pattern. She represents the modern; he stands for the traditional. Over time, they learn to work in tandem, as Miranda allows their melodies to intertwine and feed off each other. Vivo, after all, is a film that adamantly believes that one song can make all the difference.

Vivo (Lin-Manuel Miranda), a kinkajou tasked with delivering a ballad from Cuba to Miami, teams up with a young, purple-haired girl (Ynairaly Simo)

This harmony of old and new extends even to director and co-writer Kirk DeMicco’s fastidiously curated visual palette. The great gift of animation is that it allows storytellers to capture the essence of a place, rather than its material reality – Cuba transforms into a halo of rosy-pink sunsets and ever-blooming flowers, where the calls of street sellers waft softly down the streets. Miami, meanwhile, is a sprawling, electric beat.

Continuing Sony Animation’s trend of incorporating 2D animation – following on from Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse and The Mitchells vs the Machines – several sequences play gorgeously off the shapes and colours of Fifties travel posters. If the pure joy of Vivo is anything to go by, Miranda’s hardly outstayed his welcome.

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