Lin-Manuel Miranda already seems like he’s having the best year of his life right now, and he’s still got more to come before the years up! So of course that’s going to mean at least one of those projects will be a dud, and of course that one dud happens to be a Sony-produced animated Netflix release that attempts to be just like the successful Disney musicals. It tries to promote a healthy message about the beauty of music when it’s used to reconnect loved ones, but Vivo ultimately turns that into a large commercial for Lin-Manuel Miranda’s music, which in turn teaches kids that music is more important than anything, even your own safety.
One of the bigger issues is how frequently it resorts for a quick-tempo in order to keep kids’ attention; among the jokes thrown in just for the heck of it, many of them follow the repetitive approach of building suspense, then halting the music as it releases that suspense to subvert expectations: it’s not a scary monster- it’s a cute little bunny! It works the first couple of times in the first act, but that kind of joke is no longer funny the fifteenth time well into the third act. The singing may not work either for most kids, as they may not be able to understand Miranda’s rapid rapping or the other electrically modified singing voices that muffle the lyrics. It may have been an intentional choice to autotune the snot out of the voices so that it sparks the essence of 90s techno, but it still needs to be comprehensible to the ear.
Several kids could also get confused by the bad arrangement of the multiple plots, and parents likewise could get bored by the uneven pacing; one of those subplots, where a mother chases after her daughter’s bus to Miami, is left and not returned to until maybe a half hour later. It could be manageable if the main plot was easy to buy into, but it’s not; the whole idea is that this girl and a kinkajou are trying to get a song sheet to a famous singer so she can sing it live at her last concert, but so what if they don’t get there in time? It’s just a song. If they don’t get it to her, life for them just goes back to normal.
This film clearly exists just for the music, which it frankly does well. Everything that leads up to the musical numbers works for the senses, whether it’s the feisty Cuban music before the rap-heavy opening number, or the colors growing muted against the stark morning lights to anticipate the first big sad moment. The tune for that big sad moment, “One More Song,” is honestly a great piece of composition—be on the lookout of this along with “Inside Your Heart” getting an Oscar nomination this coming awards season- one of them could even win!
Some of these musical numbers get a more two-dimensional art style with colors that pop to the tone of the music genre, which fits the countercultural attitude of the motion picture- how it’s made by artists who refuse to conform to social rights activists. With the power of the songs, you’ll awe in cuteness over Vivo’s long tail and mango-tinted fur, but then cry over a dead father predicament that other kids of single parents should be able to relate to.
Except that passion in making the musical numbers great should have carried on through the entire film, as it’s still like any other nonsensical kids’ movie with direct-to-streaming quality animation. For no explainable reason, Vivo can talk to dogs, spoonbills, and snakes, but not humans (yet he can still understand their English), and his hat always seems glued to his head. He makes it from Cuba to Florida by sneaking into a suitcase, and he somehow doesn’t suffocate nor get noticed by airport security. When he makes it to Florida, it does try to capture the essence of the city, complete with a hideously distasteful lawn flamingo collection in someone’s front yard, but the effort is lost when the production crew actually thought putting dolphins in an ugly swamp was a good idea.
Though the worst crime committed here is the apparent lack of any human bond between any of the characters; Vivo is never believable as anybody’s pet, especially since this girl who befriends him is too smart in the way she talks and figures out situations. Somehow, she’s able to figure out by herself how to flee from home and make it all the way to the city without the need of a bus… in ways not even most adults would figure out. Trust me, you’ve seen this type of character in every kids’ movie. The other characters are no better—the mom has no personality besides being controlling and distressed, while most of the comic relief rests on the shoulders of this awkward suicidal spoonbill. But here’s the catch: the spoonbill has an arc where he finds the meaning of life, and when that happens, he doubles in his annoyance level, and you’d wish he would resort to suicide instead.
I know that it’s fun to listen to some awesome music, especially when it’s written by the same guy behind Hamilton, but along with that enjoyment comes the responsibility. If the songs are part of a feature film with a plot as lazy as this, and with no intent on entertainment beyond the lowest standard of keeping children quiet for a little bit, then it’s not worth going on your playlist. Music is not the most sacred thing in the world, and it’s especially not worth crossing oceans just so someone can perform a particular song. So if you love Lin-Manuel Miranda, just listen to the soundtracks of Hamilton and In the Heights again, and maybe listen to one or two songs from Vivo, but don’t bother watching the movie as a whole, you’ll get nothing out of it that way.
If there is a specific movie you’d like to see graded, or if you are interested in guest blogging for my site, please email me at Trevor@TrevorsViewOnHollywood.com for your recommendations.
Have a great weekend, and happy watching!