“In the Heights” isn’t the only Lin-Manuel Miranda musical to arrive on screens this summer. He’s written 10 songs for “Vivo” and provides the voice for the title character, a highly musical, mango-loving kinkajou. Vivo needs to get from Havana to Miami to deliver a very special song to a famous mambo singer (voiced by Gloria Estefan). The computer-animated feature starts streaming on Netflix Aug. 6.
There’s a further “In the Heights” connection. Quiara Alegría Hudes, who wrote the musical’s book and adapted it for the screen, helped write the script for “Vivo,” as did codirector Kirk DeMicco (”The Croods”).
Vivo performs as a street musician with the elderly Andrés. “You’re so full of music and life,” Andrés says in a flashback to when they first met. “I have the perfect name for you, Vivo.” With his elegance and charm, Andrés would fit right in in “Buena Vista Social Club” (1999), which is meant as mutual high praise. In fact, Juan de Marcos González, who provides Andrés’s voice, is one of the many musicians who made the Wim Wenders documentary so marvelous.
Andrés plays a hurdy-gurdy, and Vivo wears a kiddie-size fedora. We can hear him sing and talk, and so can non-humans, but the other people in the movie just hear him make cute animal sounds.
The opening mambo number is pure pleasure. It showcases what a great duo Andrés and Vivo are. An even greater duo was Andrés and Marta, the singer now based in Miami. She remains the love of Andrés’s life. He’s thrilled when she asks him to attend her farewell concert. Doubly thrilled: Andrés hasn’t seen her in 60 years and now he can present her with the song he wrote for her the night before she left Cuba, “Para Marta,” but didn’t get a chance to give her.
Something very sad happens. It’s a sign of the ambitions “Vivo” has that it’s introduced early on. It’s a sign of the filmmakers’ skill that it’s handled with emotional deftness. The plot pivots on this event, since it leads to Vivo meeting Andrés’s great-niece, Gabi (newcomer Ynairaly Simo), and her mother, Rosa (Zoe Saldaña).
Gabi is a force of nature, or as much a force of nature as a very precocious, purple-haired 10-year-old can be. Which is to say: a lot. Good thing it’s not hurricane season. Gabi pretty much hijacks “Vivo” (Vivo, too) as the movie heads to Key West, where she and her mother live, the Everglades, and — Miami beckons. All this traveling means things get very busy. Viewers younger than Gabi might welcome the busy-ness. Those older will find themselves missing Havana.
Last year’s biggest animated feature was Pixar’s “Soul.” The best thing about it was a rare feeling for music, an ability to express jazz visually and rhythmically. At times, “Vivo” does the same even better for Latin music. Sony Pictures Animation made “Vivo,” and the Lady Liberty logo starts to dance when the feature opens. How could she not? Miranda’s songs are part of that irresistibility, but so are the singers: Miranda, González, Estefan, Simo (the kid’s a real talent), and Brian Tyree Henry, as a helpful spoonbill. It’s a shame that overactive plotting takes charge.
Miranda is such a welcome presence in “Vivo,” as he is in the culture generally, it seems churlish to complain even a little about that welcome-ness. But national treasures, which is what he is, can benefit from a little going against type. It makes us appreciate them all the more. So here’s a suggestion, humbly and hesitantly offered. For his next role, Miranda should consider taking his warmth and sincerity and everyman goodness and bring them to bear on Iago (with Leslie Odom Jr. as Othello?) or Richard III or, closer to home, how about Jud, in “Oklahoma!” Or even closer to home, if there’s a sequel to “Vivo,” try imagining kinkajou fur dyed purple.
Directed by Kirk DeMicco and Brandon Jeffords. Written by DeMicco, Quiara Alegría Hudes, and Peter Barsocchini. Featuring the voices of Lin-Manuel Miranda, Ynairaly Simo, Zoe Saldaña, Juan de Marcos González, Brian Tyree Henry, and Gloria Estefan. Streaming on Netflix. 95 minutes. In English and Spanish. PG (thematic elements and mild action).
Mark Feeney can be reached at email@example.com.