by Maria Elena Gutierrez
In the animated musical adventure Vivo a music-loving kinkajou called Vivo (Lin-Manuel Miranda) sets out to deliver a song written by his friend Andrés (Juan de Marcos González) to his long-lost love Marta (Gloria Estefan). Along the way, Vivo befriends an energetic young girl called Gabi (Ynairaly Simo) who helps him in his quest.The title Vivo – which also happens to be the name of the cute kinkajou hero – tells you everything you need to know about this film’s intention. In Spanish, ‘vivo’ means ‘alive,’ and this is what this movie is all about. It is a celebration of life.
Vivo’s sense of life is expressed most powerfully through its use of music and dance. Together, these bring boundless energy and a powerful sensuality. Fueled by a cascade of original songs written by Miranda, this is not merely a musical – this is a film that is in every possible way about music.
Riding on this glorious wave of music, and creating a thread that runs through Vivo from beginning to end, is the tender love story of Andrés and Marta. This story of two people who have grown old, yet who have stayed in love despite their separation, is timeless in its simplicity and, like everything else in Vivo, is at its most meaningful when expressed through music and dance.
Take the uplifting Mambo Cabana, which Andrés sings as he tries to convince Vivo to let go of his fear and accompany him to Miami. When Andrés starts singing and moving to the rhythm of the mambo, he demonstrates the importance of dance and sensuality in Latin American culture, regardless of age. When you dance, you are ageless. When you fall in love, you are ageless. This idea is expressed beautifully in the song’s repeating refrain, “It’s not too late,” and supported visually when Andrés’ collection of musical instruments starts glowing with a life of its own.Through the universal language of music, Vivo celebrates the whole of Latin American culture. But the music does not stop there. The rhythms of the mambo and salsa sprang from the Caribbean, from the hearts of the Black slaves who brought their music to the Americas, however, they are also heard in Florida in the United States, where the precocious Gabi dances to her own hip-hop beat – a style of music rooted just as deeply in the Black experience.
Just as Vivo’s journey transforms him from fearful kinkajou to brave hero, the music travels with him and is itself transformed, from Cuban mambo to streetwise hip-hop. Lin-Manuel Miranda’s integration of these musical styles, which sound so different yet are so closely related, is masterful. Their relationship is expressed most clearly in the scenes where Vivo and Gabi make music together – a true collaboration of cultures.
Gabi herself is filled with youthful energy, which forms a charming counterpoint to the film’s underlying theme of love between elders. She even changes the visual language of the film, notably during her spectacular solo number “My Own Drum.” Just like Katie, the protagonist of Sony Pictures Animation’s previous animated feature The Mitchells vs. The Machines, Gabi gives the filmmakers license to fill the screen with vibrant imagery carefully designed to appeal to a younger audience.At the same time, Vivo recalls the earliest days of animation. The performances of the animated characters are driven directly by the music, just as they were in Walt Disney’s Silly Symphonies or Max Fleischer’s musically-inspired short films. The terrifying python Lutador owes an undeniable debt to Kaa from The Jungle Book, and the amorous spoonbills Dancarino and Valentina would not look out of place in a Disney feature from the 1940s.
So, Vivo is a story of music and of life. It is a story about old age and youth, and about the things that connect them. Most of all, it is a story of love. The love that endures between Andrés and Marta, and especially the deep bond that exists between Vivo and Andrés. It is Vivo’s love for Andreas that allows the kinkajou to overcome his fear and fulfill his mission. Their relationship is like that of father and son, or master and student, and the most beautiful songs in the film are those that speak of their profound love for each other. This love, of course, is expressed through music, as encapsulated by the unsung song that Vivo finally delivers to Marta, during the film’s heartfelt climax in Miami.In the film’s rousing finale – during which the whole cast sings the aptly titled “Grande Finale” – the familiar mambo rhythm returns in all its glory. Everyone dances, and what can we do as an audience except dance along, too? As a Latin American myself, I know I did. What choice did I have? I was taught to participate by dancing – it is an integral part of every Latin American person’s cultural identity. Through dance, everyone becomes the protagonist. It is fundamental. In the end, we are all part of the dance.
From from Sony Pictures Animation and Netflix, Vivo is currently streaming on Netflix. 95 minutes. Rated PG.
Dr. Maria Elena Gutierrez is the CEO and executive director of VIEW Conference, Italy’s premiere annual digital media conference, and its digital movie Festival, The VIEWFEST.
VIEW Conference is committed to bringing a diversity of voices to the forefront in animation, visual effects, and games. For more information about the VIEW 2021 program of events, visit the official website: http://viewconference.it
Born in Mexico and raised in California, Maria Elena Gutierrez first studied at the University of California in Santa Cruz and then at Stanford University, where she received her masters in 1990 and her doctorate in 1995. Maria Elena taught Cinema and Italian Literature at the State University of New York SUNY in Buffalo, where she became an associate “tenured” professor in 2000. Throughout her career she has received numerous fellowships and awards, including the Mellon Fellowship in the Humanities, the Cesare Pavese award and the Milton Plesur Award of Excellence for university teaching.
Maria Elena brings unique insights to her reviews of animation. Read several more here.
Vivo is a perfect family film which means young people will enjoy it while parents will find much to enjoy aimed at adults.
Vivo Voice Cast: Where You’ve Seen And Heard The Actors Before- Find out here.
A sophisticated animated film that also focuses on a romance and Cuban music is Chico and Rita (2010) directed by Fernando Trueba and artist/designer Javier Mariscal. Nominated for a Best Animated Feature Academy Award, it is filled with music by the legendary Bebo Valdés who also plays Chico with Limara Meneses as Rita. This is a film for adults and is available on many platforms.