REVIEW: Vivo (2021)

Vivo is a new Sony Pictures Animation feature that came out on Netflix on Friday, August 6th. With songs by Lin-Manuel Miranda and a screenplay by Quiara Alegría Hudes (In the Heights) and director Kirk DeMicco (The Croods), Vivo is Sony’s first animated musical. Sony Pictures Animation has a spotty record for me, with surprisingly winning movies like Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs and Arthur Christmas amid a slew of crimes against humanity like The Emoji Movie. They actually remind me of DreamWorks in that they’re capable of incredible creative feats but choose to make garbage much of the time. However, I think they’ve been on a roll since 2018’s Into The Spider-Verse. I loved The Mitchells vs. The Machines, and thought Wish Dragon was pretty good. The involvement of Lin-Manuel Miranda made Vivo a must-see for me, but does it live up to his other musicals? Let’s take a look.


Vivo (Lin-Manuel Miranda) is a singing, dancing kinkajou, or “honey bear,” a mammal hailing from the tropical rainforest. As a baby, Vivo was rescued and adopted by a Cuban musician named Andrés Hernandez (Juan de Marcos González). Andrés receives a letter from his former musical partner, Marta Sandoval (Gloria Estefan), now a superstar singer on the verge of retirement. She invites Andrés to her farewell concert, telling him she loves him and wants them to perform together. Andrés has been waiting to hear these words and prepares to leave for Miami, but tragedy ensures he won’t see his love again. Vivo embarks on a journey to deliver a song Andrés wrote to Marta but soon finds he’ll need help to complete his quest.


Vivo continues Sony’s trend of technical prowess with its animation. This movie is just gorgeous from start to finish; the character designs are unique and quirky but remain aesthetically pleasing (with one exception). Vivo is vibrant, colorful, and creative with its visuals. The world of Vivo feels lived-in but not in a grimy way. The name of the movie and its hero fits very well because the whole experience just feels lively. Some of my favorite scenes in the film are dream sequences in which Andrés and Marta reunite in a different animation style. I’m a sucker for sequences like this in animated movies, and the layered 2D look here is really stunning. I also like the contrast between the look and feel of Cuba and Miami once Vivo gets there with Andrés’ family. I also really like the soundtrack, for the most part. “Mambo Cabana,” “Keep the Beat,” and “One More Song” are all very catchy and pleasant to the ear. “My Own Drum” is hot garbage and actually ties in rather well with most of my issues with Vivo, which I’ll come back to. I love Lin-Manuel Miranda, and his presence as the songwriter was my main draw to Vivo, so I’m not surprised most of the songs are good. I expect I’ll like them more with time, too; that happened with Hamilton, In the Heights, and even Moana. Vivo’s original score was composed by Alex Lacamoire, and it’s also lovely.


Vivo also sports an impressive array of vocal talent. Alongside Miranda, Estefan, and González, the film stars Zoe Saldana, Michael Rooker, Brian Tyree Henry, Nicole Byer, and Leslie David Baker. Vivo’s co-star, Andrés’ great-niece Gabi, is voiced by Ynairaly Simo. Gabi encapsulates many of my major issues with Vivo as a movie. I don’t like her personality, character design, or song, “My Own Drum,” as previously mentioned. She’s loud, self-involved, always thinks she’s right, and doesn’t learn anything in the end. In fact, it’s her mother Rosa (Saldana) who learns that Gabi was right all along. This is a problem in many animated family movies, especially when the child protagonist only has one living parent. Gabi wants to be alternative and go on adventures, while Rosa wants her to be a Girl Scout. Her mom even tries to compromise with Gabi, letting her have a hideous purple undercut in hopes she’ll cooperate with her Girl Scout troop. This could be an interesting way to introduce nuance or show how the two struggle as a family without the mediating presence of the father. But no, as per usual, it’s a “be yourself” narrative where the parent is the problem. Gabi wants to help Vivo get Andrés’ song to Marta because she could never tell her father how much she loved him. She sees her own situation in Andrés’ desire to tell Marta how he feels. This doesn’t work very well because Gabi’s dad is only mentioned a couple of times, and we never see him in flashbacks or the like.


Vivo’s relationship with Gabi also doesn’t feel as strong or sincere as his bond with Andrés. That’s saying something, as Andrés dies early on in the film and Vivo spends the rest of it with Gabi. Gabi is very annoying in the way she carries herself, and I felt sorry for Vivo for a lot of the runtime. They play it up like the two just need to get used to one another, but the execution doesn’t carry this through. I have no hate for Ynairaly Simo, but this character just sucks, and I don’t understand how we’re supposed to like or root for Gabi. Sony pulled off a similar character far better in The Mitchells vs. The Machines’ Katie. Katie was wacky and wore garish clothing, and even had a similar hairstyle to Gabi. But she remained likable and surprisingly relatable as a protagonist. That movie also handled Katie’s relationships with her parents better. Heck, even Katie’s brother Aaron was a likable weirdo. Some of Vivo’s side characters, like the Girl Scouts and the birds Vivo befriends, also hinder the film. They just pad the runtime and aren’t very funny or interesting. I would have liked this time to have gone into better developing Gabi or even giving Vivo more time with Andrés before he died. However, I like Vivo well enough as a character in his own right. He’s voiced by one of my favorite entertainers, he’s funny, and his relationship with his owner was heartfelt. His journey to fulfill Andrés’ dying wish is admirable and emotional to see played out.

Overall, I like Vivo, but I don’t love it. Vivo is a visual feast with several catchy songs, a commendable voice cast, and good ideas behind its story. I wish the characters besides Vivo and Andrés were more likable, especially since the latter is barely in the movie. But for all this film’s warts, its heart is in the right place, and I had a good time. It’s no Mitchells vs. The Machines, but I like it about as well as Wish Dragon.

Vivo (2021)

Plot - 7.5
Acting - 9
Music/Sound - 8
Direction/Editing - 8
Animation and Character Development - 7.5



Vivo is a beautiful movie with a lively soundtrack. It falters with its side characters but is enjoyable overall.

Leave a Reply

Subscribe to our mailing list to get the new updates!