'Vivo' review: Lin-Manuel Miranda's latest film falls flat after strong start

The animated musical might have strong songs, but does itself a disservice with a fast-paced plot

Star rating: 2 / 5

Animated film fans and musical aficionados alike have been waiting for Vivo for some time.

Fresh off the success of his Broadway smash-hit In the Heights, actor and songwriter Lin-Manuel Miranda originally pitched the animated musical to DreamWorks in 2010. But movie-making is a long and complicated business.

After a 2015 restructuring, the studio dropped the project, only for Sony Pictures Animation to duly pick it up in 2016.

At this point, Miranda decided not to build upon his idea, with Peter Barsocchini and Quiara Alegria Hudes devising the story and Hudes and Kirk DeMicco writing the script. Miranda did, however, sign up to write 11 original songs.

The Hamilton star also voices the titular kinkajou, who, after being found by guitarist Andres (Juan de Marcos Gonzalez) when he was young, has played music alongside him in a lively Havana square.

Tragedy strikes shortly after Andres is invited to Miami to play at the farewell concert of his famous former musical partner, voiced by Gloria Estefan. Vivo subsequently takes it upon himself to travel to the US to deliver Andres’s secret love letter to her, which takes the shape of a song.

Vivo was set to hit cinemas in April 2021, then Covid-19 struck. Not only was Vivo delayed by more than a year, but Sony quickly sold the film to Netflix, where it will now be released.

Yet, considering how long Vivo has been in development and how many people have been involved in its production, it’s surprising how muddled the final result is.

At times, it is an enjoyable watch, particularly during its opening salvo, but ultimately, the finished product is lacking.

Vivo's downfall is that the film is in too much of a hurry. Things move so fast that viewers are unable to fully invest in its characters or connect with its vibrant depictions of Havana.

This feels particularly wasteful since Vivo’s portrayal of the Cuban capital is so utterly intoxicating it should be used by the country's tourism board. Unfortunately, DeMicco is unable to replicate this visual success once Vivo heads to the US.

It’s at this point that Vivo’s structure disintegrates, too. Rather than organically unfolding, ridiculous obstacles are shoehorned into the story.

No one is going to watch Vivo for its intricate plot, though. Instead, it will be judged on its music, emotion and comedy, most of which it delivers. The likes of One of a Kind, My Own Drum and Keep the Beat are so uplifting they'll be stuck in your head long after the credits have finished.

Unfortunately, Vivo's attempt at a grandiose and emotional ending falls flat and the film is not as funny as it could be.

All of which means that, considering how long Vivo has been in the works and the talent involved, it’s hard not to be left disappointed.

Vivo is on Netflix from Friday

Updated: August 7th 2021, 4:05 AM
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