Netflix's peppy new animated musical travels from Havana to Miami, with a bit of fun and some mishaps along the way.
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Forget pirates. Vivo takes place in the modern Caribbean, all neon waves and pastel clothes, with Cuban beats echoing across the Florida straits all the way to Miami. The musical adventure (streaming Friday on Netflix) stars Lin-Manuel Miranda as the voice of Vivo, a kinkajou who works as the animal half of a street-performing duo. The opening number takes place on the streets of Havana, with a tune that lets Miranda mix his chatter-rap version of Broadway with a generous helping of local musical flavor. Non-animated Havana has lately been the sight of vast anti-government protests. Your mileage for a cheerful cartoon in that setting may vary, and even second graders will find the politics rather hazy.

Vivo sort of delivers as an energetic caper, moving from one colorful locale to another. Vivo's owner, elderly guitarist Andrés (Juan de Marcos), gets a letter from his long-ago near-love, the now-famous singer Marta Sandoval (Gloria Estefan). Flashbacks to the glory days of Andrés and Marta play out in dreamlike 2D, with animation that's romantically jazzy and anti-realistic on purpose. It looks lovely — and makes the rest of the film feel a bit bland, despite the lush coastal environments. (The film comes from director Kirk DeMicco, who also made The Croods; rude to always say "Pixar looks better," but, well.) Vivo sets off to bring Andrés' lost ballad to Marta in time for the superstar's last Miami show. That requires a stopover in Key West — and a partnership with Andrés' grandniece Gabi (Ynairaly Simo). Their trip cuts through the Everglades, so that's four vacation locales in one brisk, 96-minute runtime.

Charismatic newcomer Simo makes Gabi a breakout character, con­fidently aspirational in her eccentricity, with a drum obsession that masks a sorrowful loss. Her shout-pop anthem "My Own Drum" is a kid's bop any adult can enjoy. Like all the tunes in Vivo, "My Own Drum" is an original Miranda composition. It's the most obvious lark. With the other songs, you feel the mind behind In the Heights and Hamilton working hard to integrate the legacy of Cuban music. Juan de Marcos is well-known internationally for his work with the Buena Vista Social Club. Estefan is, well, Estefan. Vivo digs deep into Cuban cultures across two countries. And this was originally a Sony production, which means nobody in this version of Florida even talks about theme parks.

VIVO
Vivo (voiced by Lin-Manuel Miranda) in 'Vivo.'
| Credit: Netflix

Still, if you're at all skeptical of the lately controversial Miranda... well, the rapping kinkajou in a fedora won't change your mind. Vivo doesn't do its main character any favors by setting itself in a neither-here-nor-there version of a talking animal adventure. We hear Vivo's voice, but humans don't, but Gabi always seems to understand him, so weirdly Vivo doesn't even need Vivo to talk. And then, at the midway point, a bunch of other talking animals suddenly show up in the Everglades, possibly just so Miranda isn't voice-acting into a vacuum. The sudden-onset supporting cast includes Brian Tyree Henry and Nicole Byer as lovelorn spoonbills. Their way-too-brief appearance seems to come from a much zanier tropical-species ensemble film. Meanwhile, Gabi lives in Key West, but although there are a couple extensive sequences on the island, there's no sign of any drag shows: Missed opportunity!

I assume the youth will find fuzzy Vivo himself very cute, if a bit plastic-looking. Throughout, Miranda makes a valid attempt to merge mambo, hip-hop, and a bit of EDM with his trademark leafblower-of-lyricism flow. That sums up the movie's melting-pot clash of Cuban traditionalism and American-born Gen-Post-Z anarchy. Have tissues ready, and thank Vivo for teaching the little ones a valuable lesson: Do not go into a swamp alone, or you will meet a tree-size python who sounds just like Michael Rooker.

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