The Other Side of Animation 230: Vivo Review

(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com/camseyeview. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)


Heads up: I was able to watch this series before its recent release via a screener sent to me by Netflix. I got no other form of monetization other than the screener. Thank you, Netflix.

Sony Pictures Animation has had quite a year, hasn’t it? The Mitchells vs. The Machines, Wish Dragon, the upcoming release of Hotel Transylvania 4, and with a lineup of other amazing and promising projects coming down the pipeline, Sony Pictures Animation is experiencing a renaissance of artistic creativity that has matched the likes of Disney and Pixar at their peaks. It’s nice to see a studio like Sony find their route through the sea of animation and result in some of the best or more interesting animated films for the past few years. They are doing what every studio should do by diversifying the experiences that you can’t get from other studios. Don’t try to make a Disney-like experience. If I want a Disney experience, I’ll go to Disney. Luckily, Sony Pictures Animation is so distinct that you won’t have a problem seeing them craft something other studios have turned down for some reason. For example, let’s talk about their newest film, Vivo. 


Directed by Kirk DeMicco and Brandon Jeffords, this new animated feature was born from a passion project by Peter Barsocchini and a failed pitch from Lin-Manuel Miranda with songs written by Miranda and his collaborator Alex Lacamoire. It was originally pitched at DreamWorks Animation after Miranda’s play In the Heights was a hit, but due to DreamWorks getting restructured in 2015, the pitch fell through. Later greenlit through Sony Pictures and set for release back in November 2020, Vivo was delayed due to the pandemic. Afterward, Sony made a deal where their animated films and live-action films will make it to the streaming service Netflix. So, where does this land on Sony’s recent streak of animated films? Well, you will have to read to find out. 

The story revolves around a young Kunkajou named Vivo, voiced by LIn-Manuel Miranda. Vivo lives with his owner Andres, voiced by Juan de Marcos Gonzalez. They live in Cuba together and play music. Their life is perfect until Andres gets a letter from a previous love interest named Marta Sandoval, voiced by Gloria Estefan. Marta requests that he come to Miami for her last performance so they can see each other again after so many years have passed. Unfortunately, Andres passes away before he can make the trip. At the wake, Vivo meets Andres’ grand-niece named Gabi, voiced by Ynairaly Simo. Vivo decides to go to Florida with Gabi and her mother Rosa, voiced by Zoe Saldana. Vivo then attempts to communicate with Gabi to take Andres’ last song to Marta’s final performance in Miami, and it is up to Gabi and Vivo to get there in time!

Let’s talk about the animation first. Something that Sony Pictures has tied their name to in terms of their visual style and art direction is experimental and groundbreaking innovations and snappy movements. So, What does Vivo bring? Well, due to it being a musical, the animation is still snappy, but it matches more with the music, so the movements are slower-paced to sync with the tunes. It still has the distinct Sony Pictures Animation elements with the human designs, but it doesn’t go as far as Spider-Verse or The Mitchells. With that said, it didn’t need to go that route since it still has its distinct visual look that I can’t match to other animated films that are out there. As per usual though with a Sony animated film, it does have some very vibrant and unique animated sequences that give a unique 2D CGI look using bright neon colors that make certain moments pop. It’s such a cool-looking movie, and I’m glad many of Sony’s animated features tend to have their looks. I adore these 2D/CGI moments in the film that don’t feel like they are trying to copy what another one of their films did. In terms of the voice cast, I adore it all. Lin Manuel Miranda is still growing on me as a lead actor and just an actor in general, but he brings a charm to the character with a certain innocence, and his comedic timing is getting better. I also enjoyed his singing. I know he doesn’t have the best voice, but for how the song was written and set, he passes with flying colors. Ynairaly Simo is also good as Gabi and brings that energetic “I dance to the beat of my own drum” spirit that encapsulates the character. The rest of the cast does a fine job as their respective characters as well, including Juan de Marcos Gonzalez, Michael Rooker, Brian Tyree Henry, Gloria Estefan, Leslie David Baker, Nicole Byer, Katie Lowes, and Zoe Saldana, all making for a memorable cast that has their own identifiable moments. The music by LMM and his co-writer is really good! It’s nice to see a strong musical from someone other than Disney for once. I know other studios have tried, but they tend to try and feel like a Disney musical rather than be their own type of musical. I found myself humming a lot of the tunes as I worked on this review and when I was at my job. 

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Story-wise, it’s a film that’s all about how music connects us, family, love, and the legacy you leave in this world. While the story itself has familiar beats and rhythm to the overarching story, the execution still made the journey through the film worth it. Music is such a universal language, and Vivo showed that no matter who or what you are, music connects us. At first, I was curious about why Vivo couldn’t speak the same language as the humans, but I think that helps reinforce the whole “music is universal” message that the film is going for. The studio sort of goes the route of something like Courage the Cowardly Dog where around everyone, he talks like an animal, but when addressing the audience or interacting for the sake of the audience, he speaks English. It’s an incredibly sweet story overall, and it reminds me of a US studio doing their take on one of my favorite films, Chico & Rita. Not only does it take place partly in Cuba, but the same kind of music is played throughout both films. It has, again, a familiar story beat about family, but I think everyone has gone through this situation where they lost a loved one and didn’t get to say something to them. They didn’t get to leave what they wanted to say to them. It’s an overall touching story, and even some bits with the side characters are fun. 

Something that I wish more US animated films would do is step out of their comfort zones when it comes to certain characters and stories. I say this because the film itself doesn’t offer that many surprises, and that’s a shame because I like the overall experience and story, but it’s full of story elements you have seen before. It makes for an experience that’s well-told, but something we have seen before. You know what’s going to happen, and while it’s all executed well, there are elements to the story that could have been improved. The side characters are a good example of this. To me, they fell flat. The main film should be about Vivo and Gabi, but you still want to see the rest of the cast stack up to them or be memorable in some way, shape, or form. Rosa is just a typical caring mom, the Sand Dollars are typical tyrannical girl scouts, and Lutador is a road stop villain. He isn’t there to be important to the story, but more of a challenge that they have to face when trying to get to their destination. Rooker plays him with a devilish charm, but he’s like Madam Mim from The Sword in the Stone. No real mention or build-up until you see him. I also wanted there to be more time between Vivo and Andres. It gets to the tragedy as soon as possible, and that was jarring. Even when the trailer accidentally spoiled what happened to Andres, I wasn’t too bothered by it since I felt like something was going to happen, but I wish we either had spent more time with Andres, or Andrew lived and got to see Marta in person before passing. I know you would have to retool the film if the story kept him alive, but I feel like we didn’t get much time with him. It’s a shame since I love Juan de Maros Gonzalez as Andres and would have liked to have seen him in more scenes interacting with the people in the city and for there to be more scenes of just him and Vivo. 

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I think the biggest downfall of this film coming out is the fact it came out after something as big and acclaimed as The Mitchells vs The Machines, and it’s not fair to Vivo to be held up to that high standard. Vivo stands on its own two feet in terms of its own experience. I think that’s something quite nice about the animated films from Sony this year. They all feel distinct and different from one another. Sure, I might have a ranking of which ones I Like more, but it doesn’t change the fact that I have still found so much joy in how many unique offerings this one studio has given us this year. If you have yet to watch Vivo, please do. Netflix has done a terrible job with marketing this film, and it would be a real shame for this to get buried because of Netflix’s asinine algorithm and being overshadowed by other films and shows released that day. I love that we got an original film from the amazing Kirk DeMicco, Lin Manuel Miranda, and the other members of this passionate team. Seriously, do not let this film get buried. Now then, I would take a small break from reviewing, but the work is never done! Next time, I will be writing a review about another CGI animated film that Netflix is burying on the site with Monster Hunter: Legend of the Guild. I’m a little worried about how this film will turn out, but it can’t be any worse than that awful live-action adaptation from 2020 right? See ya next time! 

Thanks for reading the review! I hope you all enjoyed reading it! If you would like to support my work, make sure to share it out, and if you want to become a Patreon supporter, then you can go to patreon.com/camseyeview. I will see you all next time!




Rating: Go See It! 

The Other Side of Animation 148: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse Review

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(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com/camseyeview. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

If you saw my editorials, talking about what I would like to see change in the big budget US animation scene, I talked about how certain studios should and could use a “shot in the arm” with trying out more ambitious storylines and visual styles. Animation is such a wonderful medium that is hamstrung by studios not bothering with stepping out of their comfort zones. Thankfully, Sony Pictures Animation decided to be a brave individual, and show that not only do you not need to spend triple digit millions, but can also make massive long-term profit and award acclaim with Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. Directed by the trio of Peter Ramsey, Bob Persichetti, and Rodney Rothman, Spider-Verse was released back in December to universal acclaim, winning a massive pile of awards, and has certified itself by a team of me, myself, and I, as the best US animated film of 2018. Shall we swing into the review?

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The story revolves around Miles Morales, voiced by Shameik Moore. He’s a high school student who lives in a world where Spider-Man exists. Nothing is really all that different here in this universe. Spider-Man, voiced by Chris Pine, is loved, Miles dad, voiced by Brian Tyree Henry doesn’t trust Spider-Man, and Miles doesn’t really care about going the distance in becoming a better person. After hanging out with his uncle Aaron Davis, voiced by Mahershala Ali, Miles encounters Spider-Man attempting to stop King Pin, voiced by Liev Schreiber from using a giant machine to cause some supposed chaos. Luckily, Spider-Man sort of stops the machine from working while fending off Green Goblin and The Prowler. The bad news is that Spider-Man ends up getting killed by King Pin. The city is then swept over by sorrow from the loss of Spider-Man, and Miles feels responsible for the death of his universe’s Spider-Man. That is, until he encounters a much more self-defeated Peter Parker aka Spider-Man, voiced by Jake Johnson, from another universe. As the two try to find a way to get the alternate Spider-Man back to his own dimension, they encounter other Spider-Men from different dimensions. This includes Spider-Gwen, voiced by Hailee Steinfeld, Spider-Man Noir, voiced by Nicholas Cage, SP//dr, a Japanese anime-style Spider-Man/robot pilot voiced by Kimiko Glenn, and Spider-Ham, voiced by John Mulaney. They team up to try and stop King Pin, along with his lackeys Prowler, Tombstone, voiced by Marvin Jones III, Doctor Octopus, voiced by Kathryn Han, and Scorpion, voiced by Joaquin Cosio, from starting up the machine again, and possibly destroying Miles’ universe.

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Like a couple of times in my reviews, I want to talk about the animation first. This was the first big selling point when everyone saw the first teaser trailer for Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. The visuals are literally jaw dropping. You will lose your jaw, and then have to go get it surgically reattached with how incredible and striking the visuals are. Everyone has said it, and it’s true, it looks like a literal moving comic book. The bright colors, the many details you would see in most comic books, the textures, the lighting, the designs, and how it all meshes well. Not one character from the different dimensions stands out in a bad way. Everything flows and gels well. I have seen some people argue that the animation is bad, but I’m sorry, that’s just objectively wrong. If you follow animation, then you know Spider-Verse does not have bad animation. The slower framerate and movements are there for a reason. If everything moved as fast as say, Sony’s Hotel Transylvania franchise, it would be an eye sore with all the bright and multi-colored visuals. It’s a style of animation that is used in other parts of the world, like in The Painting and Zombillenium. It’s used to work with the unique art style and not a budget limitation. When you see as much animation that varies in both budget and quality, you can see what is style and what is bad animation. Norm of the North is bad animation. Spider-Man into the Spider-Verse is good animation. End of lecture.

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In terms of the story, Spider-Verse has one of the most complex and complete stories out of most animated films in 2018. It’s the best told story among the US-made films. Films like Incredibles 2 and Ralph Breaks the Internet felt like they either didn’t go far enough with their themes and story, or only went at them in ways where they only go 50% and not 100%. Spider-Man fully commits to its multi-verse storyline mixed in with themes of coming of age, finding your own identity, not being fixated on events from the past, what it means to be a hero, and the harsh realities of being a hero. Every character works well with one another, and they treat everyone as characters. Sure, you can argue and nitpick and say that three of the six Spider-Mans don’t get as much development as the other three, but all six aren’t the main focus. The real focus is on Spider-Gwen, Miles, and Jake Johnson’s Peter Parker. Even Miles’ parents and Parker’s Aunt May are easily some of the best characters out of the movie. It’s so shocking to see an animated film treat everyone with actual dimension and not as one-note archetypes. While you can say that this film’s version of King Pin is not as good as the Netflix one, that isn’t really fair. This is one movie, whereas the Netflix one had three seasons to flesh out the character. It’s not really a perfect one on one comparison. However, you still get why King Pin is doing what he’s doing in the movie, and that’s pretty good. I also like how the film skims over origin stories. We really don’t need another Spider-Man movie that takes 40 minutes of its runtime to flesh out what happens. At least, it’s not a 100% origin story with the exception of Miles Morales, who has probably one of the best developments and stories out of any superhero movie.

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The voice cast for this film is perfect, and everyone seems to be on board and on the same level as everyone else. This isn’t like Venom or The Meg, where everyone, but one or two people know what kind of movie they are in. The talent is crazy good with Shameik Moore, Brian Tyree Henry, Mahershala Ali, Hailee Steinfield, Nicolas Cage, John Mulaney, Liev Schreiber, Jake Johnson, Lily Tomlin, Luna Lauren Velez, Kimiko Glenn, and as usual, seeing the late great Stan Lee in one of his last cameos is touching and endearing. The music is also incredible with plenty of amazing pop and rap songs that fit the tone perfectly. I even bought the soundtrack after I saw the film. I still listen to Vince Staples’ track.

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I really have no complaints about this movie. It’s truly the best US-made animated film of 2018, and congrats to Sony Pictures Animation for their successful 2018 line-up of animated features. Sure, I have minor gripes, but they really don’t matter when everything else is so strong. I highly recommend checking this film out, or getting it on blu-ray the day it comes out. It’s smart, funny, endearing, action-packed, and a blast. I think anyone who thought Sony Pictures Animation should just shut down and “drop dead” need to go crawl under a rock and never come back. Now then, before we hit 150, let’s keep making sure everything is awesome with LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part. Thanks for reading, I hope you all enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time.

Rating: Criterion/Essentials