The importance of a second chance cannot be lost on anyone who has lived long enough. The unending list of regrets suddenly seems less imposing, and redemption feels close at hand. It’s the charm of finding a second chance after forever that makes Vivo‘s premise so impressively powerful. The backstory is relatable because of the familiarity of an intimately narrated, unexpressed love. It sets up an intriguing journey that has the possibility to redeem regrets remarkably.
It doesn’t take long however, to feel a bit bored by the overwriting. The central conflict is appreciable, and the build-up, despite being rapid, strikes a chord. However, the potential of the emotional strength of the connection – which is what makes the tragedy so compelling – is left unrealised. A lack of subtlety in the dialogue, with almost obnoxious eye-roll worthy lines, is off-putting. The writing seems to underestimate its audience, as it seems a little overdone – even for kids. Repetitive lines aren’t necessarily bad and sometimes add weight, but stating the obvious, especially from charismatic and unconventional characters, is somewhat annoying.
The story itself isn’t loose at all, but the execution is meandering and seems to lose itself at points. The side-plots aren’t elaborate enough to justify the time spent on them, although given the short runtime, that’s not a glaring flaw. The pacing is in fact the best aspect of the writing. The story develops pretty fast, and that counters the unsettling feeling of the overwriting. The balance between cheeky and intense is well managed, especially through the repertoire between the kinkajou and the girl. The depth of their bond could easily have seemed exaggerated, but the circumstances are well designed to make it believable.
Plus, the world-building is kind of impressive. It’s not necessarily very memorable or unique, but the visual aesthetics perfectly complement the tone of the narrative. Cuteness abounds, and while it undercuts the underlying premise, it doesn’t look off-putting, given the energetic and funny dynamics between the characters. For a story of processing grief, it can feel insincere at points, and the lack of focus on characterisation does sometimes stand out. However, the plot-points are well-structured and carry the story forward.
The visuals of Miami as a neon nirvana, and of the rainforest as both a lovey-dovey heaven and a stormy cesspool of doom, make the experience worth the time. Plus, the public squares, and performances are in their own way, rewarding to watch. The character-drawing is on-point too, especially young Gabi. Her awkward energy, that’s completely overshadowed by unearned confidence, is a welcome personality design. Her look, and the way she is depicted to be bubbling with energy always, makes her compelling as a character.
Lin-Manuel Miranda is finally becoming a true household name, and the world is a better place for it. An incredible singer-songwriter, he has an unbelievable ability of writing narrative songs. The songs in Vivo are no exception. Two back-stories are properly fleshed out enough to make the characters accessible, yet neither is written for longer than a mere four or five lines. Plus, Gabi’s infectiously energetic personality is so well communicated through the song ‘My Own Drum’. A beautiful ode to being comfortable with solitude and unapologetically flaunting yourself, without worrying about judgemental opinions, ‘My Own Drum’ is truly cathartic and catchy at the same time.
Most of the soundtrack is hip-hop, in keeping with Lin’s trademark style of rap musicals, and the sincerity is mindblowing. The songs are catchy, and yet meaningful. As a children’s movie, the songs are exactly the kind you would want, to help reconcile a reality that can often seem intimidating. The songs don’t undercut the seriousness of reality, but attempt an explanation in a very friendly manner. This soundtrack definitely makes the film highly enjoyable, even if as a movie, it seems overdone, especially with the writing outside of the songs. ‘One More Song’ is an almost melancholic song about coping with loss, and still it gets you swaying and singing along too. The use of hip-hop to tell all kinds of stories never seems to get less impressive, no matter how much of Lin’s work I listen to. ‘Keep the Beat’ is the MVP of this soundtrack, although ‘Para Marta’ isn’t far behind. ‘Para Marta’ is a powerful celebration of love and a teary-eyed acknowledgement of one of the most common kinds of regret. ‘Keep the Beat’ is quintessential Miranda, talking about tackling life with its challenges, but personally. The song’s story is difficult to understand out of context, and yet it’s meaningful outside of the film too. The chorus tells a story of growing up and is a fresh take on disillusionment. It remains upbeat while addressing quite an important and sombre topic. It’s beautifully written and invokes all kinds of nostalgia with its imagery and expression. ‘One of a Kind’ and ‘Grand Finale’ are the perfect songs to groove to. They’re perfectly written, with lyrics that parallel the screenplay.
Vivo explores the power of music through its soundtrack, especially because it takes you on a rollercoaster of emotions, full of enthusiasm and infectious energy, without ever taking on a very serious tone.
Disclaimer: This article has not been written by Film Companion’s editorial team.