Released: 6th August
Seen: 8th August
While Netflix has been kind of hit or miss with a lot of their releases this year, I have to admit that their animation stuff has been knocking it out of the park almost every time. Arlo the Alligator Boy, Wish Dragon and The Mitchells VS The Machines are some of the best animated films of 2021 so far and it’s nice to see Netflix assuring them wide releases. Now the newest release, Vivo, is gunning to be the 4th great Netflix animated film of the year and goddamn it might be the second best of them all (…hey, Mitchells VS The Machines is a hard act to beat, OK?)
Vivo begins in Havana with the titular kinkajou Vivo (Lin-Manuel Miranda) and his owner Andrés (Juan de Marcos González) who perform regularly in the plaza together. After one of their shows, Andrés receives a letter from an old friend, Marta Sandoval (Gloria Estefan) telling him that she’s going to be retiring from her music career and inviting him to her last show in Miami. Excited, Andrés finds an old song he wrote to tell Marta how he feels about her and prepares to go see Marta’s final concert… Andrés is a parental figure in an animated kids’ film, guess what happens to him?
So, during Andrés funeral, Vivo meets a young girl named Gabi (Ynairaly Simo) who lives in Key West, Florida and decides to stow away with her when she goes back so that he can find his way to Miami and deliver the song to Marta. Of course, stowing away in the luggage of a small excitable and slightly different child means that child is likely to insist on joining you on any adventure, so Gabi ends up joining Vivo on a quest to deliver a song to Miami and nothing will stop them, no snake, girl scout trio or angry mom will get in their way.
You can really tell that the man behind the music here is the same one who gave us the toe tapping extravaganza of In The Heights because from the second the music starts, it’s impossible to turn away from the colourful delights being flashed upon the screen. The opening tune alone is enough to make this one of the most enthralling movies of the year but every single number afterwards somehow tops it.
Aiding the beauty of the music is the film’s ability to change visual styles to accommodate the music. While the majority of the film is in a bold colourful 3D animated style, moments like Andrés’ song about Marta are presented in a bold high contrast 2D style that just fits. Every single frame is gorgeous, the strange angular creatures put on screen all work wonderfully and give the film such a strong visual punch that you just can’t help but fall in love with every character.
It helps that the characters are all delightfully funny, heartwarming and fully realised. An argument could be made for literally every character being someone’s favourite and all would be valid choices because they’re just so fascinating and fun. You can be howling with laughter at the hyper-Girl Scouts who will literally go to any length in order to ensure the rules of quarantine are followed (maybe we should have them in charge of Australia’s Covid quarantine setup?) before shuddering in fear at the snake who hates all loud noises with teeth sharp enough to cut through just about anything. Every single character is an absolute delight in some way that it makes the film just seem to fly by.
This is definitely the kind of film Netflix should be sending out to theatres to get on as big a screen as possible because it’s so damn pretty with such a fantastic cast and some hilarious classic animation that it deserves to be shown as big as possible. Things like Vivo’s journey through the treetops of a swamp or just the performance of the song that starts the entire plot are so visually stunning that it should be viewed as big as you can.
Vivo is absolutely fantastic, a glorious original musical delight that will have something for every family member. Little kids will delight in the cute silliness of the bright yellow monkey, teenagers will tap their toes to the music that’ll undoubtedly get stuck in their heads for a while and adults can relax knowing they’re giving their kids a good fun film that isn’t going to be hell to sit through a couple dozen times. Everyone wins when Vivo is involved.