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film review

Ynairaly Simo as Gabi, left, and Lin-Manuel Miranda as Vivo in director Kirk DeMicco's Vivo.Sony Pictures Animation / Netflix

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  • Vivo
  • Directed by Kirk DeMicco
  • Written by Kirk DeMicco, Quiara Alegria Hudes
  • Original Songs by Lin-Manuel Miranda
  • Starring Lin-Manuel Miranda, Zoe Saldana, Juan de Marcos Gonzalez, Ynairaly Simo and Gloria Estefan
  • Classification G; 99 mins
  • Streaming on Netflix starting Aug. 6

I had no idea what a kinkajou was; my animal-show-nature-documentary watching kids did. “It’s a honey bear, Mom,” my daughter informed me, as we settled on the couch to watch Vivo, a Sony Pictures Animation film acquired by Netflix. “Found in the rainforest. In Brazil. Costa Rica,” my son started rhyming off. Meanwhile my daughter had pulled up Wikipedia. “Wait, what?! It’s related to raccoons?” None of this information is relevant to Vivo, which stars Lin-Manuel Miranda playing the titular kinkajou.

Instead, consider the movie an introduction for children to musical theatre conventions, and more specifically the particular song stylings of Miranda. This is clearly the actor-singer-songwriter-playwright’s year. His projects are dropping like dominoes – which has its pros and cons. More on that later. For now, let’s focus on Vivo, which brings Miranda’s characteristic energy to the streets of Havana and Miami, as it tells stories of several forms of friendship through song.

It’s glorious in some parts, stretches out your willingness to suspend disbelief in others. Nevertheless, a movie that leaves you with a Missy Elliott style grrrl power anthem as an earworm is totally worth a lazy summer afternoon sprawled in front of your TV – as you make mental notes to sign up your kids for musical theatre classes the minute you’re allowed.

The story is pretty straightforward, with a bunch of (sometimes unnecessary) twists and turns thrown in. Vivo is a kinkajou who was found on the streets of Havana by a musician Andres (Buena Vista Social Club’s Juan de Marcos Gonzalez). Music helps Vivo trust Andres, and together they establish an act that they perform at a central plaza. Rendered in perpetual pink and purple sunsets, populated with vintage cars, Havana looks like a romantic dream. Life is predictable and happy.

Out of the blue, Andres receives a letter from his former musical partner Marta Sandoval (Gloria Estefan), now a huge superstar in Miami. She’s performing a farewell concert and wants Andres to join her there.

Gloria Estefan as Marta in Vivo.Sony Pictures Animation / Netflix

Thrilled at the idea of reuniting and finally confessing his love, Andres starts making plans to deliver a song he’d written called Para Marta. The sheet music that he’d handwritten for it has been folded away in a suitcase for several years; it’s a perfect gift for the occasion. At first, Vivo throws a bit of a tantrum at the prospect of disrupting their routine. But when Andres dies unexpectedly, it’s up to Vivo to deliver the fragile sheet of music to Marta.

As it happens, Andres’s Miami-dwelling relatives, Rosa (Zoe Saldana) and her purple-haired tween daughter, Gabi (Ynairaly Simo), come to Havana to celebrate his life. As they head home, Vivo decides to hitch a ride, hidden in hand-luggage with the sheet music. When Gabi discovers Vivo in Miami, she takes it upon herself to help him on his mission, through the city’s neon-lit and pulsating streets. They are thwarted by an endangered-species-saving Girl Scouts-like group and a diversion through the bayou. Throw in a pair of star-crossed spoonbills and a villainous python for good measure. But you know that everything will end with a song of celebration, and it does.

The elements for a grand musical adventure are all there. The opening scenes and establishing of the story hold your attention. I was particularly happy with my kids grinning at the duet between Gonzalez and Miranda and the introduction to Cuban rhythms along with pulsating beats of Miranda’s verses. A short while later, my daughter was rocking out with Gabi as she owned her weirdness to “march to the beat of her own drum.” Simo is a delightful discovery in Vivo.

Viewers can consider Vivo an introduction for children to musical theatre conventions, and more specifically the particular song stylings of Lin-Manuel Miranda.Sony Pictures Animation / Netflix

By the time we arrived at the bayou bypass, however, the rhymes had started to sound more of the same. The musical theatre standard of characters describing their actions didn’t always translate from the stage to the screen. At certain moments, Vivo started to feel oversaturated and formulaic.

Which brings us to Miranda. After the runaway Broadway success of Hamilton, he’s clearly hot property. His name is at the helm of projects such as In the Heights and the upcoming Disney movie Encanto, in addition to his own directorial debut Tick, Tick … Boom! It’s wonderful that through his work we’re getting to see new talent and perspectives reflected on the big screen, that the Hispanic experience represented through the characters, dialogue and accents feels authentic to the story. One can only hope that Hollywood’s desire to cash in on a successful formula doesn’t straitjacket his creativity.

In the interest of consistency across all critics’ reviews, The Globe has eliminated its star-rating system in film and theatre to align with coverage of music, books, visual arts and dance. Instead, works of excellence will be noted with a critic’s pick designation across all coverage. (Television reviews, typically based on an incomplete season, are exempt.)