‘Vivo’ Preview: Inside the Animated Musical with Director Kirk DeMicco

Vivo Andres and Kinkajou
JUAN DE MARCOS GONZÁLEZ as “Andres” and LIN-MANUEL MIRANDA as “Vivo” (Photo Credit © 2021 SPAI)

Lin-Manuel Miranda (In the Heights, Hamilton) has been eager to tell the story of a music-loving kinkajou since 2009. Miranda wrote many of the songs for Netflix and Sony Pictures Animation’s upcoming animated film, Vivo, over a decade ago and then recently reunited with his In the Heights co-writer, Quiara Alegría Hudes, to pull together Vivo’s story.

Miranda provides the voice of Vivo, a brave kinkajou who embarks on a mission to honor a dear friend’s memory and deliver a special song to the woman who inspired it. Vivo’s story begins in Cuba and then travels from there to Florida’s Key West and through the Everglades before ultimately finishing up in Miami. The film’s vibrant visuals reflect the tropical locations, and the music mixes different styles including salsa, boleros, danzón, and reggaeton.

Netflix recently hosted a special virtual press event in support of the animated film set to premiere on the streaming service on August 6, 2021. Among those participating in the Vivo online press event were writer/director Kirk DeMicco (The Croods) and writer Quiara Alegría Hudes.

Writer/director DeMicco became involved in the project back in 2016. “One of the coolest things that I felt right from the get-go was that this truly was a musical about musicians,” explained DeMicco. “And it was about the music of Cuba, of Miami, of Florida, of the Caribbean, and it had a lot of different styles. And we thought that we could bring in the style of both the classic and the new and the styles of each local as we went through this road movie, if you will, as a journey, a mission, as Vivo travels from Havana to Key West.”

“A classic is a book that has never finished saying what it needs to say,” added Hudes. “That’s where the love song comes in. Kirk said we were writing a musical about musicians, but of course, musicians are humans. And at the core of this journey, what initiates this journey is a regret and incomplete love story that Vivo just feels determined to honor and to complete.”

Vivo Gabi and Kinkajou
Ynairaly Simo as Gabi and Lin-Manuel Miranda as Vivo (Photo Credit © 2021 SPAI)

Lin-Manuel Miranda developed two of the main characters: Vivo the kinkajou and his human best friend/mentor Andrés who perform before crowds in La Placita in Old Havana. DeMicco and Quiara came up with a young aspirational female character named Gabi who helps Vivo on his mission.

“I imbued this character of Gabi with a lot of life and creativity, and spunk, and pizzaz, and wildness. I was really excited to write a wild girl. I feel like a lot of the girl characters that I iconically grew up with in fairytales and stuff were dealing with being good girls and dealing with being nice,” explained Hudes. “I wanted Gabi to not be dealing with that. Gabi was just wild and the world was gonna get on board with her or not. And what she was dealing with was some of the ramifications of isolation when you’re a person who really does march to the beat of your own drum. Of course, her friendship with Vivo becomes a counter to that isolation.”

Kirk DeMicco has nothing but praise for Lin-Manuel Miranda and his work bringing Vivo to life. “Lin not only has an encyclopedic memory of hip hop and rap and musical theater, but also animation. He could teach an animation class. The amount of animation knowledge he has is astounding,” said DeMicco. “While we’d be having fun recording scenes, he would also be sometimes recording a scene and then, later on, he would take that scene he had recorded as an actor and work many times on refining the words or refining the rhythms of the scene, and we would cut it and put it into the film. And then decide later on, ‘What if I musicalize this scene?’ And then he’d take that scene out. So, it’s not a lot of actors…I think it’s pretty unique that he was a songwriter, storyteller, and the lead actor in it.”

DeMicco continued: “A lot of times he had to kill his own darlings because he had worked really hard on the acting part, but when creating the song much of that acting would end up on the cutting room floor and he would just take the best of the best. It was like a highlight reel of some of the scenes. The one, in particular, is the middle song, ‘Keep the Beat,’ which happened over last summer during the lockdown. When he wrote it last summer, that scene had existed for two years, and it was a great scene between Gabi and Vivo playing the drums in the first, you know, flames of a friendship, the first sparks of a friendship had started. And he had taken what was a very funny scene and then turned it into this very emotional song, so that it had the ideas that he loved about the scene, but at the same time it gave him some architecture for the musical that he was still writing in his head.”

Summing up the story, Lin-Manuel Miranda describes Vivo as “about music being able to bridge distances. It’s about how music and love are really sort of the same thing.”

In addition to Lin-Manuel Miranda in the title role, the voice cast includes Gloria Estefan as Marta Sandoval, Zoe Saldaña as Rosa, Juan de Marcos as Andrés, Brian Tyree Henry as Dancarino, Michael Rooker as Lutador, Nicole Byer as Valentina, and newcomer Ynairaly Simo as Gabi.

The Plot, Courtesy of Netflix:

Vivo follows a one-of-kind kinkajou (aka a rainforest “honey bear”), who spends his days playing music to the crowds in a lively square with his beloved owner Andrés. Though they may not speak the same language, Vivo and Andrés are the perfect duo through their common love of music. But when tragedy strikes shortly after Andrés receives a letter from the famous Marta Sandoval, inviting her old partner to her farewell concert with the hope of reconnecting, it’s up to Vivo to deliver a message that Andrés never could: A love letter to Marta, written long ago, in the form of a song. Yet in order to get to Marta, who lives a world apart, Vivo will need the help of Gabi – an energetic tween who bounces to the beat of her own offbeat drum to fulfill his owner’s wishes.