Lin-Manuel Miranda began working on the story and songs for the animated musical Vivo in 2009, but the songs ended up sitting in his trunk for a few years while In the Heights and Hamilton happened. The Tony-winning writer revisited the project with his In the Heights collaborator Quiara Alegría Hudes, and the result is the first-ever musical from Sony Pictures Animation, streaming now on Netflix.
The film follows the adventures of Vivo, a kinkajou (a.k.a. a rainforest honeybear) as he teams up with tween Gabi to deliver a musical love letter from his owner in Havana to a long-lost love in Miami. The two are opposite personalities: Vivo, voiced by Miranda, is controlled and graceful; Gabi, voiced by newcomer Ynairaly Simo, is buck wild.
"I imbued this character of Gabi with a lot of life and creativity, spunk and pizzaz, and wildness," Hudes says. "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 were dealing with being good girls, and dealing with being nice. I wanted Gabi to not be dealing with that."
These opposites come to play in other parts of the film as well, contrasting the old-world Cuban music with the loud, neon sounds of Miami. Tony winner Alex Lacamoire, himself a Cuban-American from Miami, composed the score for the film and serves as executive music producer. "I think that this movie is a true love letter to Cuba, and Cuban music, and to what it means," he says. Lacamoire, along with Miranda, imbued the score with the sounds of Havana—salsas, boleros, danzón, reggaeton, and the flute of the charanga. And, of course, there's a rap for wild child Gabi.
Ultimately, Vivo and Gabi, tasked with delivering this love letter, travel from Havana through the Everglades to Miami. The letter reunites the two old loves, Andrés and Marta, voice by Buena Vista Social Club's Juan De Marcos and Grammy-winning Latin pop legend Gloria Estefan, but also brings Vivo and Gabi together.
"It's a love letter to music, and to what it can do," says co-director and co-screenwriter Kirk DeMicco.
Miranda adds: "What's exciting is it's about music being able to bridge distances. It's about how music and love are really sort of the same thing."
The musical also features the voice over talent of Zoe Saldaña as Gabi's mother, Michael Rooker as a villainous Everglades python, Brian Tyree Henry and Nicole Byer as a pair of star-crossed spoonbills, and Katie Lowes, Olivia Trujillo, and Lidya Jewett as a trio of scouts. It's produced by Lisa Stewart, Michelle Wong, and Rich Moore and executive produced by Miranda, Laurence Mark, and Louis Koo Tin Lok.