It is a good story for children on a Sunday morning but unlikely to be remembered the next day at school.
vivo movie havana review
VIVO sets the scene in Havana, Cuba. Image: Sony Pictures

As a Cuban, Vivo, the new animation movie released on Netflix last Friday, caught my eye  at the beginning, before the movie even officially started, when Columbia Picture’s iconic lady changed her torch to a flute and started to improvise a melody with a son-based rhythm. Shortly after, the image of a picturesque Havana opened up showing the Malecon and the giant Capitol builiding in the background. “Asere, qué bolá?”, the mythical phrase was said in the middle of that vibrant intro and I could not help but have my skin bristle. 

Cuba seemed by far the pillar of the plot of the new Hollywood bet to acknowledge the Latinx community in the USA —the 18% of a population which has been underrepresented in the entertainment industry. The Cuban aspect, nonetheless, tastes like a snack that is advertised to fill you up but leaves you hungry anyway. 

The Cuban aspect, nonetheless, tastes here as a snack that is advertised to fill you up but leaves you hungry anyway. 

Vivo tells the story of a musically talented kinkajou (a mammal that inhabits typically Central-American forests but not found in Cuba). He has to travel with a vivacious but  lonely girl named Gabi from Havana to Miami in order to honor his owner, Andres’ last wish. The old man died before he could travel to Florida to see the love of his life, an old famous singer who was about to retire, and to whom he was determined to hand in a love song he had written decades ago.

vivo movie review
Lin-Manuel Miranda as Vivo and Ynairaly Simo as Gabi. Image: Sony Pictures

Vivo is an entertaining but not memorable film. With the visual pyrotechnics so typical in Hollywood blockbusters, flavored with color changes and graphic design elements, the story does engage you until the end but feels like an airplane which takes off and struggles to land in a specific place. It only works for children to spend a nice Sunday morning watching it though it is unlikely to be remembered the next day at school.

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Culturally, it can disappoint you. What starts off in to Cuba loses its way in cliches as if suddenly the script writers took you out of your seat and put you in another movie hall, to tell you: “well, actually this is what you came for, to watch the same animated story that we usually present. ’The film feels more aligned with the times when Obama, back in 2015, tried to break the ice with Cuba and people started to create bridges between the two countries that never were finished. 

The film feels more proper for the times when Obama, back in 2015, tried to break the ice with Cuba and people started to create bridges between the two countries that never were finished.

Music tries to be the thread that weaves the storyline in the different situations that Vivo and Gabi must overcome so as to get to Marta Sandoval (Gloria Estefan). Nevertheless, the soundtrack ends up feeling disconnected among the rhythms, introducing a Latin sound which does not exploit the enormous richness of Cuban music and also twisting to other catchy but ordinary pop songs. Though greatly composed and arranged by the talented and award-winning Lin Manuel Miranda, who also starred as the voice of the protagonist, it turns out kind of forgettable at the end.

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Cuba, in fact, fades away while the movie goes on. Havana is hardly a memory that does not add any solution to the conflicts and challenges in the remainder of the film and the Latinx concept turns into an ornamental element only. There is, in the middle of the film, an inexplicable twist to a fable, in which the scenario is a jungle full of animals in Florida’s Everglades. It made me miss seeing the Hispanic Miami that has been built throughout the past decades as the capital of the Latin-Americans in the USA, where the biggest Cuban exile community lives. I regretted that the love story did not touch in-depth one of the most sensitive issues – Cubans usually deal with: separation due to migration.

vivo movie havana review
Vivo the movie. Image: Sony Pictures

Despite a  plethora of talent in a deluxe cast, with Kirk Demicco as director (The Croods), music by Miranda and voiceovers from  Puertorican-Dominican Zoe Zaldaña and Cuban-American Gloria Estefan, the shiny story lacks the interest to dig deeper in our culture. As if Cuba were no more than what the tourist postcards show or the way a Buena Vista Social Club album may sound. 

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Luis Orlando León Carpio is a Cuban journalist living in Trinidad. He has worked as a reporter and content producer for Vanguardia newspaper and is currently the editor at Tornapunta magazine in his hometown. He has also contributed as a freelancer at El Toque, OnCuba, Tremenda Nota, Periodismo de Barrio and Cubadebate. Since 2017, he has been dividing his time between being a journalist and an entrepreneur, when he began offering a cultural tour through Airbnb Experiences, called “Inside Real Trinidad.” He holds a BA in Journalism from the Universidad Central Marta Abreu de Las Villas in Santa Clara, Cuba. Fun fact: he also loves to sing!

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  • This movie was disappointing, in times like these it was aloof and tone-deaf. My children will not be watching this garbage, instead they will be learning about the real Cuba and what they can do to change the world. #SOSCuba

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