Netflix’s Vivo reminds us that love is forever

VIVO - (L-R) Ynairaly Simo as Gabi and Lin-Manuel Miranda as Vivo. ©2021 SPAI. All Rights Reserved.
VIVO - (L-R) Ynairaly Simo as Gabi and Lin-Manuel Miranda as Vivo. ©2021 SPAI. All Rights Reserved. /

Netflix has added another heartwarming movie to its list of family-friendly movies.

Vivo, starring Lin-Manuel Miranda as a musical kinkajou, delivers a story that’s relatable from a variety of perspectives, ultimately reminding us that “love is forever in your heart”.

The film utilizes new rendering technology for 3D animation, creating stunning color pallets and high-quality textures. Sony Pictures Animation has created a name for itself in unique character design, world-building, and innovative animation that sets the studio apart.

We shared what you need to know about Vivo below! Spoilers ahead for Vivo.

What is Vivo about?

On the welcoming streets of Cuba, Andrés (Juan de Marcos González) and Vivo take to Havana square daily as musical performers. The duo combines a score of snazzy rap and majestic Latin music to create a beat you can’t help but vibe to. Andrés took in the lost kinkajou as a baby, when he fell off of a cart and escaped from wild dogs. Now after years of raising Vivo as an adopted fuzzy son, they’ve become an unstoppable partnership in music.

Things change when Andrés receives a letter from his former music partner, Marta Sandoval (Gloria Estefan). As the successful singer decides to retire, she invites Andrés to perform with her once more: a final encore at the Mambo Cabana in Miami. Little does she know that Andrés has loved her since they played together, and had bottled up his emotions into a love song he never sang for her. Finding the old sheet music in a box of nostalgia, he begins to pack his bags and plans to confess his love.

Vivo has settled in to his simple life as a street performer in Havana and is naturally upset at the idea of leaving it all. He has no reason to upheave his life to go Florida. But while thinking on his relationship with his father-figure and friend, who gave him a life and a home, Vivo decides that he can’t abandon Andrés in his moment of need.

Unfortunately, it’s too late. Vivo returns with optimism, but once the sun rises, Andrés has tragically passed away in his sleep. The little kinkajou wants to hear the song of his partner one last time: He vows to deliver the love letter, Andrés last song.

After a touching funeral, Vivo hitches a ride overseas in the luggage of Andrés’ 10 year-old grand-niece Gabi (Ynairaly Simo), who is absolutely thrilled to have a new best friend. Single mother Rosa (Zoe Saldana) attempts and fails to wrangle her energetic daughter, and the quest to deliver the lost love song takes off.

A series of plan-destroying obstacles leads Vivo and Gabi to places they never expected. After escaping gators and a storm, the two are separated. While Gabi deals with the Sand Dollar scout troop, Vivo befriends and aids a spoonbill Dancarino into finding love. After escaping an attack from the huge python Rutador, the scouts turn from enemies to allies, but the original sheet music is ruined. Despite their differences, Vivo and Gabi are able to synchronize in heart and song to recreate the music from memory.

Pushing through every hardship, the two are forced to part ways as Gabi is apprehended by the venue security. Vivo soon finds himself in Marta Sandoval’s dressing room, where the singer is distraught over the news that Andres has passed. Vivo delivers the love song, completing his mission for his old friend.

With Vivo’s help, Gabi and her mother Rosa are able to see eye to eye, and the three return to the concert as a family. Marta Sandoval ends her final set by performing the love song that Andres never got to sing to her himself.

Sometime later, Vivo has returned to street performance, with his new partner Gabi. The little kinkajou has found a new family, with the old joys of music still in his life.

Is Vivo a musical?

Yes, Vivo is filled with music from start to finish. Lin-Manuel Miranda (famous for Hamilton: An American Musical) wrote a grand total of 11 original songs for the movie. His trademark rap infuses the soundtrack with a new energy that hasn’t been seen before in a Hollywood children’s feature. His background in theatre shines through with the use of reprises throughout the film.

Vivo is a story that reminds us of all different kinds of love. The kinkajou himself holds a special bond with his friend and father, Andres. He learns a new kind of love with his new family, Gabi and Rosa. We see lost love, with Andres and Marta. Vivo helps create new love, with the spoonbills Dancarino and Valentina. We see the love between a mother and daughter who don’t quite get each other.

The writers could have chosen for Gabi and Rosa (her mother) to have a volatile relationship that ended in flames. This time, the audience got to see a softer side of a single parent’s struggles. You can tell that Rosa wants to create a happy environment for her daughter, but she doesn’t know what Gabi wants. Gabi is quite self-assured for a 10-year-old, and doesn’t need the type of support her mom is offering.

While the characters’ intentions are at odds during the film, they don’t have an explosion moment where one says something intensely hurtful. It was a breath of fresh air to see a family dynamic that while imperfect, wasn’t destructive. In a rare moment, the writers decided not to rip apart their young female protagonist’s identity: in fact, she’s perfect the way she is. No one pushes Gabi to be less intense, less energetic, less GABI. While her actions can cause problems, no one drags her down for bouncing to the beat of her own drum. In fact, this story is refreshingly devoid of degrading humor or plot points of any kind.

The story also teaches that we can always change for the better. At the beginning of the film, Vivo’s first reaction to Andres’ letter is resentment. He is able to contemplate that although this development is scary for him, it’s worth it to put aside his own qualms to help his friend succeed in love. The scout troop Sand Dollars start out as adversaries to the quest, wanting to put Vivo through quarantine as he’s a foreign animal that’s traveled overseas. After some adventure, they change their priorities and help our heroes on their mission.

Vivo reminds us that music is a way to communicate the love you want to share, and that whatever happens, love is an eternal force.

Is Vivo a good movie?

This movie was genuinely heartwarming and unique on a number of levels. The soundtrack may not appeal to everyone, but you can’t deny the originality and energy that radiates from every note. There’s a song for each emotional beat in the film, so if you want music, you are definitely getting it. Vivo feels like an appropriate response to the recent push for more diverse representation in media, showcasing culture, colors, and locations in an immersive and beautiful way.

While the idea of a young adventurer and an animal companion isn’t new, Vivo and Gabi’s specific dynamic is hard to compare. On one hand, you have a stress-prone Type A kinkajou. On the other, an energetic and confident young girl. They can’t communicate in spoken language, and start totally out of sync. This movie shows that no matter the differences, a shared emotional investment can create a bond.

Vivo does have an issue with pacing. One of the main characters dying in the first 15 minutes throws the story into a different direction that takes some time to process. The greater part of the adventure through the Floridian bayou takes some questionable turns, introducing characters that have little impact on the story emotionally. Did we really need to see two spoonbills fall in love? Maybe not. To give the movie credit, everything comes together in the end in a neat bow. Usually, there’s a thread or two that need further explanation, but Vivo manages to avoid that pitfall.

Is Vivo the best family movie of the year? Maybe not, but its characters, songs, and themes set it apart from the other human-animal partnership movies out there. Vivo is a movie that can connect to people of all ages and demographics: because love is forever in our hearts.

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