It’s all about the beat — in music and in “Vivo,” a new animated movie (streaming on Netflix) with an uneven story but dynamite songs from the “Hamilton” maestro himself, Lin-Manuel Miranda.
In the film, from Sony Pictures Animation and directed by Kirk DeMicco, Vivo (Miranda), a musically talented kinkajou (a tropical mammal that looks like an adorable monkey-cat hybrid) busks the streets of Havana, Cuba, with his owner Andrés (Juan de Marcos). But after a tragedy, Vivo must journey to Florida to deliver a love song to his owner’s former musical partner and long-lost love, the famous Marta Sandoval (Gloria Estefan).
A death, a journey, a multicultural cast of characters whose first language is music: “Vivo” feels like it’s in conversation with other recent animated movies with these themes, like “Coco” and “Soul.” The representation is essential, but there’s the risk of “brown characters finding grief and love through the beauty of music” becoming the new trope.
Certainly “Vivo,” despite its exuberant beginning and heartfelt ending, struggles to offer more than odd turns and clichés in the rest of its story. The exacting Vivo is buddied up with the rambunctious purple-haired Gabi (Ynairaly Simo). Side characters — three off-brand Girl Scouts, two awkward spoonbills looking for love, a vicious python, Gabi’s exasperated mother — are meant to add humor and dramatic pitch but are too clumsily integrated to do much of either.
So thank the Broadway gods for the film’s stellar music. Miranda’s songs incorporate his signature rapid-fire rapping, along with quick tempo changes and genre mash-ups. Gabi’s song, “My Own Drum,” with its grade-school Nicki Minaj-esque rap and auto-tune, is the jam I didn’t know I needed in my life.
“Vivo” has cuteness to spare, even if the rest is hit or miss. But, we all know, the beat goes on.
Rated PG. Running time: 1 hour 35 minutes. Watch on Netflix.
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