Whether it’s “Hamilton” or “In the Heights” or even the “I Do Not Like This Man” number from “Fatwa! The Musical” in “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” there is something instantly catchy and memorable and unique about the musical stylings of the one and only Lin-Manuel Miranda. Five seconds into anything featuring the music and/or voice of Miranda, and we know that’s him and we love it and we’re immediately tapping our toes and nodding our heads in time with the tune.
Even when Miranda is a computer-animated kinkajou, he’s an infectiously catchy computer-animated kinkajou, as evidenced in the Sony Pictures Animation musical “Vivo,” released by a little streaming company you might have heard of, goes by the name of Netflix. Miranda contributed 11 original songs and is the voice of the title character, an energetic and sweet if sometimes bumbling little rainforest creature who is out of his element in more ways than one throughout this journey, but always perseveres, thanks to his strong spirit and warm heart.
Directed by Kirk DeMicco with beautiful cinematography from Yong Duk Jhun (and a visual consulting credit to the legendary Roger Deakins), “Vivo” is a gorgeous, candy-colored visual feast that begins in Havana, where the elderly and beloved town square singer Andres (Juan de Marcos Gonzalez) performs every day with his faithful kinkajou partner Vivo. When Andres receives a letter from his long-ago musical collaborator Marta Sandoval (Gloria Estefan), who has become a superstar and is about to perform a farewell concert in Miami, he decides he must go to her and tell her he’s been in love with her all this time. This will be Andres’ last chance to share the song he wrote for Marta so many years ago.
Alas, and spoiler alert, Andres dies on the eve of his journey. (Cue a memorial service that will have you tearing up unless you’re dead.) A heartbroken Vivo makes it his mission to somehow find a way to Miami and deliver that song to Marta, and he hitches a ride with Andres’ niece Rosa (Zoe Saldana) and Rosa’s tweenage daughter Gabi (Ynairaly Simon), and because this is one of those animated movies where we can hear the animals talking but the humans IN the movie can’t, Vivo is facing quite the uphill challenge. Also, Rosa and Gabi live in Key West (which comes to fantastic animated life) and the concert is some 31⁄2 hours away in Miami, so there’s that.
“Vivo” strays this way and that, and younger viewers might get restless in the middle sections where Gabi and Vivo must cross the Everglades and they have to deal with a trio of Gabi’s peers who are out to get her but eventually become her friends, not to mention a monstrous python voiced by Michael Rooker and a couple of daffy spoonbills played by Brian Tyree Henry and Nicole Byer. But through it all, the Latino-influenced ballads, dance numbers and hip-hop numbers infuse the story with great life, and how can anybody possibly resist Lin-Manuel Miranda as a kinkajou with a tiny hat?