[Screen It]


(2021) (voices of Lin-Manuel Miranda, Ynairaly Simo) (PG)

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Computer-Animated Musical: A singer-musician kinkajou travels from Havana to Miami in hopes of delivering his musician friend's never-heard song to his former singing partner.

Andrés Hernandez (voice of JUAN DE MARCOS) and his singer-musician kinkajou partner, Vivo (voice of LIN-MANUEL MIRANDA), routinely perform on the streets of Havana, and make a living from their musical performances. One day, Andrés receives word that his former singing partner and unrequited love interest, Marta Sandoval (voice of GLORIA ESTEFAN), who moved from Cuba to America and became a huge star, is having her last performance in Miami. And she wants him to join her on stage for one last collaboration.

But Andrés isn't sure, what with being an old man, and Vivo is quite happy staying in Cuba. Accordingly, when Andrés decides to go -- particularly to deliver a song he wrote for her that no one has ever heard -- Vivo tries to dissuade him. But once Vivo comes around, it's too late...forever. After meeting Andrés' niece, Rosa (voice of ZOE SALDANA), and her preteen daughter, Gabi (voice of YNAIRALY SIMO), Vivo secretly decides to return with them to Key West, determined to get his friend's song to Marta at Miami's Mambo Cabana club.

Gabi is quickly on board with Vivo's plan and defies her mom's order that the girl sell cookies with the other members -- Becky (voice of KATIE LOWES), Eva (voice of OLIVIA TRUJILLO), and Sarah (voice of LIDYA JEWETT) -- of the local Sand Dollars cookie club. Trying to elude them, Vivo and Gabi end up on a roundabout journey to Miami where they must contend with a huge python, Lutador (voice of MICHAEL ROOKER), while also helping spoonbill Dancarino (voice of BRIAN TYREE HENRY) find love with fellow spoonbill Valentina (voice of NICOLE BYER). With the clock ticking down to Marta's performance, the unlikely duo does what they can to get Andrés' song to her.

OUR TAKE: 7.5 out of 10

Like probably most every kid to come along since they first were projected onto a reflective screen, I adored animated movies in my formative years long ago, simply because they entertained me in ways live-action offerings couldn't.

I had no idea if they contained purposefully planted life lessons for young, impressionable minds, but if I had to guess I'd say that probably wasn't as common way back when as it is today. Granted, not every movie has to have a message, but those that manage to do so in an added bonus sort of way are all the better.

Such is the case with "Vivo," a delightful, charming, and ultra-winning offering that leans more on the side of sheer entertainment for kids and those young of heart, but does bring a message along for the entertaining ride.

And that would be not to wait to tell someone how you truly feel about them, a sentiment that fuels the story penned by Quiara Alegría Hudes and writer/director Kirk DeMicco (who co-directs with Brandon Jeffords). It's about a duo of street performers -- human Andrés Hernández (voiced by Juan de Marcos González) and his kinkajou Vivo (Lin-Manuel Miranda) -- who entertain the locals and tourists of Havana with their musical numbers.

When Andrés learns that his former music partner and unrequited love interest, Marta (Gloria Estefan), is having her last performance in Miami and wants him to join her on stage, he's excited to do so. And that's because he'll finally be able to give her a song he wrote for her as she was leaving Cuba for stardom in America all those years ago.

Unfortunately, an unexpected development means he'll never get the chance, so Vivo decides it's up to him to deliver that song. And thus begins a comedy-adventure journey that takes the honey bear from Havana to Miami by way of Key West and the Everglades and involves Andrés' preteen grand-niece, Gabi (Ynairaly Simo) who literally and metaphorically bounces to the beat of her own drum; a lovelorn spoonbill (Brian Tyree Henry); an overzealous girl scout (Katie Lowes); and a hungry python (Michael Rooker).

Technically, the film is a visual marvel, with vibrant and lush computer animation, while DeMicco and Jeffords (and their animation team) deploy a bevy of imaginative directorial flourishes that delight the eyes.

But what really makes the film soar are the songs by Miranda (the genius behind "Hamilton" and "In the Heights" and who wrote some of the songs for "Moana"). From the Broadway-style numbers to the Caribbean-infused songs, the film is as much a treat for the ears as it is the eyes.

And the message that tomorrow isn't guaranteed and thus one shouldn't wait to tell others how you feel is the poignant and emotional icing on the cake. Leaving me with a smile on my face, tapping toes, and a warm spot in my heart, "Vivo" is one of the best animated offerings of the year. It rates as a 7.5 out of 10.

Reviewed August 23, 2021 / Posted August 27, 2021

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