From Hamilton to In The Heights, everything Miranda touches turns to musical gold. Vivo, the newest animated musical from Sony Pictures, is no exception. Directed by Kirk DeMicco, Vivo is a collaborative tour-de-force with musical contributions from Miranda, Gloria Estefan, and Juan de Marcos González (of Buena Vista Social Club fame). But at its core, Vivo is a love song, an elegy and a story about family.
The Vivo Story
“Vivo came into my life a really long time ago, and I just sort of fell in love … He’s one of the most unforgettable characters I’ve ever written for,” said Miranda at a recent press event for the film.
Vivo follows a one-of-kind kinkajou (aka, a rainforest “honey bear” voiced by Miranda) named Vivo, who spends his days playing music to the crowds in a lively Havana square with his beloved owner Andrés. When Andrés receives a letter from the famous Marta Sandoval, inviting her old partner to her farewell concert in Miami with the hope of reconnecting, it’s up to Vivo to deliver a message that Andrés couldn’t: A love letter to her, written long ago, in the form of a song.
Vivo embarks on a journey from Cuba to Key West to the Everglades with a diverse array of characters. To reach Miami however, Vivo will need the help of Gabi (newcomer Ynairaly Simo) – an energetic tween who bounces to the beat of her own offbeat drum.
A Love Song for Cuba
Although the literal journey involves the delivery of a long-lost love song, the film is in and of itself a love song for Cuba. Executive music producer and composer Alex Lacamoire was thrilled to collaborate on the project.
“Anytime I get to honor Cuban rhythms, Cuban music, Cuban styles, for me it’s a win,” Lacamoire tells Parentology. “It’s an ability to story-tell through music, a way to honor my heritage, a way to honor this country, a way to honor the story.”
Lacamoire’s respect and admiration for Cuban culture is evidenced by the casting of Cuban music royalty. Estefan plays Marta Sandoval, Andrés’ love interest and the ballast on which the story rests. In the same vein as Celia Cruz and La Lupe, Estefan is a female trailblazer who helped deliver the sounds of her beloved Cuba to the masses.
“Vivo is a love letter to ‘mi tierra,’ Cuba,” Estefan tells Parentology. “It’s an exhilarating story about gathering courage, finding family, and knowing that music can be transformative.”
Estefan’s impact on Latinx identity cannot be underestimated. “When her song ‘Conga’ came out, I remember my mom and I were driving. My mom is from Puerto Rico. And she had to pull over. Her breath stopped,” writer Quiara Alegría Hudes tells Parentology. “She said ‘The fact that there’s a woman doing this is gonna take our culture to a whole new level.’ I’ll never forget that.”
Juan de Marcos González has also used Vivo to put the music of his beloved country onto the international scene. “Vivo captures the spirit of Havana, the spirit of my nation,” he says. “It’s a great, great love story and a tribute to the music of my country.”
Bouncing to the Beat of Your Own Drum
While a singing honey bear is a marvel in its own right, Ynairaly Simo gives a standout performance as Gabi, the outlandish, impulsive, self-loving, purple-haired juggernaut that helps Vivo get to Miami and deliver the love song to Marta. A joyful anarchist, Gabi is a non-conformist; not anti-establishment, just pro-herself.
“I wanted Gabi to have this celebratory nonconformity … For her, making a joyous noise, being loud, that’s what creativity is all about,” says Hudes.
Gabi represents a new wave of strong female leads in animation. She’s complicated, loud, abrasive, unapologetic, independent, lonely, and processing some very real trauma. Gabi literally marches to the beat of her own drum, activating a seismic shift for audiences and throughout the film’s narrative.
“Once we had kind of nailed this classic vibe that Vivo and Andrés represent, we needed someone to come in and bring in a whole new energy,” Hudes explains. “This is where Gabi came from. Vivo and Andrés are virtuosos. Gabi is a very different creative soul.”
The Power of One Song
Vivo could have sailed to success on the reputation of its collective talent alone, but the film’s power doesn’t just rely on great music, a fabulous script, or amazing performances. Vivo is a love song that bridges distances, celebrates family, and heals deep wounds. This is musical storytelling at its finest.
“It’s a really incredible journey about music and friendship and how much music and love unite us. What I’m really excited about is the music; authentic, incredible music,” said Miranda at the press event. “It’s about how music and love are really sort of the same thing. And I’m thrilled to be telling it.”
Vivo Netflix Release
The Vivo US release on Netflix happens August 6th. The movie stars Lin-Manuel Miranda, Ynairaly Simo, Zoe Saldana, Juan de Marcos González, Gloria Estefan, Michael Rooker, Brian Tyree Henry and Nicole Byer.