Keep the beat whenever and however you like with “Vivo” on home video.

The recent go-to writer for making a family film, especially one with music, is Lin-Manuel Miranda. He’s not just the mind behind global phenomenon Hamilton, he’s the lyricist behind Moana (2016) and Encanto (2021). It makes sense, then, that if you cast the multi-hyphenate in your musical project, the songs are likely going to be one banger after another. Such is the case with Vivo, co-written and directed by Kirk DeMicco (The Croods), Sony Pictures Animation’s first musical release that was initially distributed by streaming service Netflix in August of 2021. Roughly a year later, DeMicco’s tale of love, loss, and found family (with a musical spin) is receiving the home release treatment. So if you’re the sort who likes to own physical copies of their media or you’d just prefer to enjoy Vivo without a Netflix subscription, now’s your time to act.

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L-R: Andrés voiced by Juan De Marcos and Vivo voiced by Lin-Manuel Miranda in VIVO. Netflix © 2021.

In Havana, Cuba, two musicians earn their living by playing for the locals in the town square: Andrés (Juan de Marcos González) and his kinkajou friend Vivo (Miranda). Shortly after Andrés receives a message from his lost love Marta (Gloria Estefan), a singer in Miami, Florida, he passes away, leaving the song he always planned to give her with him. Seeing it as an opportunity to help his friend, Vivo decides to travel to Miami to see Marta and deliver Andrés’s song himself. Reluctantly, Vivo is assisted by Andrés’s great-niece Gabi (Ynairaly Simo), an outgoing girl with no musical talent but with a relentless energy. Together, the two attempt to finish the journey to Marta, if they can just make it from Key West to Miami before Marta’s curtain call.

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L-R: Marta voiced by Gloria Estefan and Andrés voiced by Juan De Marcos in VIVO. Netflix © 2021.

There’re two main aspects to explore with Vivo: the animation and the narrative. Considering that Sony Pictures Animation is the same studio behind the Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs movies, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018), and The Mitchells vs. The Machines (2021), there’s an expectation of some genre-breaking visuals. Oddly, Vivo is a bit of a mixed bag, even for a family film. The majority of Vivo uses an animation style which evokes Cloudy, especially in the character design of the humans. It’s not that the design work (character, production, set, etc.) isn’t pretty, but it lacks a certain “wow” factor. However, in Andrés’s flashback to he and Marta as young kids in love, as well as during Gabi’s “Beat of My Own Drum” sequence, Vivo is dazzling. Neither animation style used in these two respective sequences match each other or the majority of the film; instead, they are specific to that moment in the characters’ lives, beautifully channeling their internal perspective outward. If all of Vivo were designed like Andrés’s sequence, it would be gorgeous, but then you couldn’t feature Gabi’s brilliance and imagination as currently presented because it would be too far a departure in style. This makes that middle ground of the main feature far more purposeful in intention, even if it’s not as evocative as the rest.

Then there’s the script by co-writers DeMicco, Peter Barsocchini (High School Musical), and Quiara Alegría Hudes (In The Heights), which offers a twist on the road trip comedy. Given that the film is animated and is aimed at family audiences, the fact that Vivo and Gabi can’t understand each other unless it’s through music (and even then it’s not 100% guaranteed to be clear) smoothly communicates the universal nature of music as a means of conveying internal needs/emotions. There are plenty of films where the human and animal characters don’t fully understand each other, but, in this case, it becomes critical to the narrative in relation to the individual character’s arcs, specifically that of Vivo who only understands the bond he has/had with Andrés. That he understands her but she not him ensures that the audience knows the film is from Vivo’s perspective (like a reverse of the normal human-animal relationship), thereby making certain it’s his journey we spend the most time investing in. This isn’t to imply that Gabi’s arc isn’t as important, there’s just a little less work to be done. Not for nothing, but when my eldest watches the film, it’s Gabi he responds to more and it’s something I’m grateful for. Her character, as designed and brought to life by Simo, encourages kids to seek out their out rhythm, to make their own band, to view the world with the possibilities without ignoring it’s more problematic areas. In this way, it’s nice that though Vivo’s the start, his cranky old kinkajou character doesn’t have the flourish or color at that she does, making Gabi’s a great role model for younger kids.

As a huge fan of home video, the included bonus features are minimal and a tad disappointing when compared to other Netflix/Sony Pictures Animation release The Mitchells vs. the Machines. That film hit shelves with a bounty of materials, whereas Vivo only includes a Sing Along Edition, a single music video (out of several strong songs), and a truncated behind the scenes featurette. If you’re a fan of Vivo, keep handy the Netflix Film YouTube channel as that’s where you can find song clips, behind the scenes featurettes, and more. For instance, the “Behind the Animation” featurette included on the disc is just shy of four minutes, whereas the online version is short of six. It’s not that the brief bit of information we receive isn’t interesting, it’s just that there’s clearly content available, so it’s odd that so little of it made it onto the home release. Another item to be aware of is related to the Sing Along Edition: the text and presentation of text is different on the Blu-ray version compared to the digital one. Using my Apple TV as the means of checking out the digital edition, the Sing Along text is the typical subtitle white text on a black background underneath the image. On the Blu-ray, however, the image fills the screen and the text is presented in a playful font that changes color when the words are sung. So if you’re planning to put on the Sing Along version for your kids (or if you like something more vibrant), plan to put on the disc.

Though the convenience is there to access Vivo on Netflix, having a physical copy doesn’t just mean that you can watch the film without a subscription, it also means that the picture and sound are likely to be far improved. For this home release review, I checked the streaming edition against the disc and, keeping in mind that I used a 4K Apple TV with a regular Netflix account to check the digital and a 4K compatible Xbox to play the Blu-ray disc, the Blu-ray is far more vibrant in color than the stream. It may not be noticeable by the target audience, but there’s no questioning the improved visual fidelity. If that matters at all for your viewing experience, this alone is the reason to snag the home release edition. That the improved video and audio from a decompressed source is the main reason to pick up Vivo when all the good bonus features are online makes the overall argument for picking it up harder to make.

Good luck. Trust your instincts. Keep your beat.

Vivo Special Features:

  • Sing Along Edition (1:35:39)
  • “Beat of My Own Drum” Remix Music Video (3:00)
  • Behind The Animation (3:58)

Available for streaming on Netflix August 6th, 2021.

Available on Blu-ray, DVD, and digital August 9th, 2022.

Final Score: 3.5 out of 5.

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Categories: Home Release, Home Video, Recommendation, Reviews, streaming

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