Not just “dancing to my own drum”

November 1, 2021 - 12:00am -- Living City

Not just “dancing to my own drum”

The animated movie Vivo shows the value of working together

By Susanne Janssen

Main characters of children’s movies influence the new generations, but they are also influenced by trends in society. 

Once there were male characters with superpowers; animals depicting sensitive, empathetic personalities; and beautiful princesses from ancient fairy tales — until the outcry that girls are much more than just beautiful. Then Disney began to focus on movies about strong girls, like the princesses Elsa and Anna in Frozen and Raya in Raya and the Last Dragon. 

Gabi, the main character in the new Netflix animated movie Vivo, is a strong girl, for sure, but she is not a classic hero. In fact, she is initially branded “the weird kid.” 

Her rap song, “My Own Drum” — “I bounce to the beat of my own drum / I’m a wow in a world full of ho-hum” — was written by Lin-Manuel Miranda (creator of the musicals Hamilton and In the Heights) and is performed by 14-year-old Ynairaly Simo. 

This family movie follows the journey of Vivo, a kinkajou, who lives in Havana, Cuba, with his beloved friend, the musician Andrés. Andrés is about to leave for Miami to join the love of his life, Marta Sandoval, who left Cuba to pursue a musical career in Miami decades ago, when he suddenly and unexpectedly dies during the night. 

As Andrés’ niece Rosa and her daughter Gabi are flying back to Florida after the funeral, Vivo takes on the mission to deliver Andrés’ last song, written for Marta, and stows away in the accordion case that Gabi is taking with her. 

We learn that Gabi — despite her positive, energetic, upbeat appearance — has some problems: she is not able to empathize with others, and if someone else doesn’t follow her beat, her lead, she usually withdraws. 

She refuses to follow the rules and styles that others propose. With purple hair, a checkered skirt, a tie and a hoodie, she sticks out as a colorful but solitary flower. She has no friends, doesn’t want to participate in Girl Scout meetings and prefers to be alone in her room, a fact that makes her mother crazy and worried at the same time.

But the little kinkajou awakens a hidden desire to help, so Gabi finds a way to take him to Marta Sandoval’s last concert, and the adventure begins. They miss the bus and find themselves in the middle of the alligator- and snake-infested Everglades, which turns out to be a path of growth for both of them. Vivo, who grieves the loss of his friend and their predictable life, has to put up with Gabi’s spontaneous actions, while Gabi is faced with the truth that she needs the help of others to reach her goal.

Her evolution is beautifully expressed through Lin Manuel Miranda’s songs, in which she moves from just banging on a set of drums that create simple beat-boxing rhythms to listening to Vivo, who performed with Andrés in Havana’s plazas. She discovers that sometimes, you need to give up your own beat to collaborate, to chime in, to pick up the other’s key to sing a proper duet.

In the end, even the unlikable Girl Scouts reveal themselves as good fellows. Vivo and Gabi go on to perform together — in totally different ways than in Vivo’s days in Havana, but along their journey, each character learns the value of changing and being changed by the other. 

The script finds a balance between being your true self — a big topic for children and teens — and learning how to collaborate and stick together in tough times.

Full of vibrant Latino colors and scenes, this family movie conveys a simple yet beautiful message: in order to become our true selves, we need to give up our stubbornness, our pet peeves and our fear. 

Gabi and Vivo, who don’t like each other initially, but have to collaborate in order to reach their goal, can become role models for us: instead of giving up or just “dancing to our own beat,” we can discover true friendship and see how that friendship helps each of us develop who we really are and the value of our unique contribution in life.

Vivo (2021, 1h 38 min) is available on Netflix.

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