After putting the wind in “Moana‘s” sails with his music and lyrics, Lin-Manuel Miranda brings his stage-honed chops to another animated movie in “Vivo,” a sweet if slight love story built around an inordinately resourceful kinkajou. Premiering on Netflix, Miranda’s songs elevate a small-boned effort — call it cute, without that being pejorative — with an unabashedly romantic streak.
The title kinkajou (voiced by Miranda) has been raised in Cuba by a street performer, Andrés (Juan de Marcos), who reveals his long unpursued love for musical star Marta Sandoval (Gloria Estefan), who is planning a farewell concert in Miami.
An unforeseen turn leaves Vivo seeking to fulfill Andrés’ wishes by embarking on a seemingly impossible mission for a rainforest “honey bear” with big cartoon eyes, journeying to Miami to deliver to Marta the love song that Andrés wrote for her decades earlier.
As with most such quests, the furry musician gets help from a variety of unexpected sources, most significantly a nerdy outcast named Gabi (newcomer Ynairaly Simo), who has lost her father, and whose antics (including a track record of deceased pets) has her poor mother (Zoe Saldaña) at her wits’ end.
The trip to Miami, however, experiences several detours, including one through the Everglades, which mostly feels like a laborious attempt to introduce more animal friends (and foes) while prolonging the modest journey to feature length.
Written by Quiara Alegria Hudes (Miranda’s collaborator on “In the Heights”), and directed by Kirk DeMicco (“The Croods”) and co-director Brandon Jeffords, “Vivo” comes from Sony’s animation arm, which produced the “Hotel Transylvania” series but hardly possesses Disney’s storied legacy.
Even so, the songs — featuring the composer’s trademark mix of musical styles and playful lyrical calisthenics — prove catchy and touching, particularly in Andres’ words about sharing Marta, who was destined for bigger things, with the world.
Netflix has sought to diversify its menu with children’s fare, a something-for-every-demographic strategy — in cultural terms with the recent “Over the Moon” as well as age — that has yielded mixed creative dividends.
Animation provides Miranda — who is also writing songs for Disney’s upcoming “Encanto” — and Hudes a colorful canvas to extend their collaboration, albeit at a scale that won’t make anyone forget about “Hamilton.” Still, by continuing to explore a medium that has a long musical history, Miranda’s not throwing away his shots.
“Vivo” premieres Aug. 6 on Netflix.
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