[3.5 stars]

I love that animation, particularly animation aimed at younger viewers, is starting to tackle deeper subjects. Look at Coco or Soul for examples of this shift. It speaks to bravery on the part of the studios and an emotional awareness on part of the writers and directors. The trick is to balance those more adult aspects with a younger person’s point of view and perspective of the world; you can’t share a message if you don’t have enough common ground.

And this is where Vivo, for all its wonderfulness around Cuba, music, love, and loss, stumbles. It really isn’t balanced for the widest audience. I suspect it will resonate much more for adults than kids, despite some fun and funny moments.

The main culprit is the script by Kirk DeMicco (The Croods) and Quiara Alegría Hudes (In the Heights) which hides Ynairaly Simo’s reasons for engaging on the adventure until it’s too late for audiences to latch into it. Adults may see what’s going on, but many kids just won’t and, for all her wonderful and brave acting, she just comes off as being silly rather than purposeful and with something invested until near the end.

Fortunately, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s (In the Heights) energy, and his ability to connect with the other characters, does help pull it all along. And his songs don’t suck either. Michael Rooker (Fantasy Island) gets a prime bit of screen time…and is every bit as memorable as Sterling Holloway’s (or even Scarlett Johansen’s) turn as Kaa in Jungle Book. (Rooker also had a double opening weekend with The Suicide Squad.) And Gloria Estefan as the lost love and famous singer was an inspired choice, though I wish she’d have gotten to let loose her chops some more. The rest of the voice cast is generally serviceable.

Vivo is really a sweet film to share. The story may be, well, incredulous, but the message and emotions are real. And the animation has moments of true beauty, though it is generally just your typical 3D CGI that we’ve grown used to accepting. It works, but I’m still finding the clash between landscape photo-realism and weird balloon people a struggle at times mentally. All that said, it certainly entertains. And, depending on where you are in life and mood, it may just grab you by the shoulders and shake you (in a good way) a little.

Vivo Poster

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