When it comes to Cuba singer Gloria Estefan’s career, the bulk of it revolves around using her voice. She is better known behind the mic instead of in front of movie cameras. This is evident in her new film, one that sits at #1 on Netflix, and one that only requires the hit song maker to use her voice.
Vivo is a computer-animated musical that comes from the uber-talented mind of Tony Award, Grammy Award, and Emmy Award (among his many accolades) winner Lin-Manuel Miranda. It makes sense that he wanted to cast a top voice talent like Gloria Estefan.
The story follows Vivo (Miranda), a kinkajou who plays music in a Havana, Cuba plaza with his owner, Andrés Hernández. One day after their performance, Andrés receives a letter from an old friend, Marta (Gloria Estefan), who informs him that she is retiring from her music career. Andrés sees this as a chance to reconnect with Marta so he can finally tell her about his feelings for her through a song he wrote for her.
Vivo is happy with his life in Havana and has no desire to leave Cuba. He does, though, leave Andrés in a huff. The next morning, Vivo finds out that Andrés passed away in his sleep. A funeral service is held for Andrés in the plaza that’s attended by Andrés’ niece Rosa and her young daughter Gabi.
Distraught, Vivo is now determined to have Marta hear the song Andrés wrote for her (wouldn’t you want a chance to play for Gloria Estefan?). He decides to stow away to Key West with Rosa and Gabi. Vivo’s hiding place is found by Gabi, who is excited to find him. She then tells Vivo how sad she is because no one understands her and that she has no desire to be part of the Sand Dollars, her girl scout group.
Vivo’s determination inspires Gabi to help him and the two take off for Miami where Marta will be playing her last show. It’s a chance for us to hear Gloria Estefna. Gabi is able to get a bus ticket, but they are stopped by the Sand Dollars who immediately take interest in Vivo. Gabi and Vivo are able to get away from the Sand Dollars but they miss their bus. A freak storm lands the pair in the Everglades, where they lose Andrés’s song.
As their travels to Miami continue, they come across a spoonbill who is having finding love with his own species. They also run afoul of Lutador, a noise-hating large green anaconda. When the Sand Dollars arrive with Andrés’s song, Vivo has to save them from Lutador, but in the process, Andrés’ song is destroyed.
Despondent, Vivo thinks it’s time to head back to Cuba. But then he realizes that he and Gabi can still deliver the song to Marta as they both know the lyrics and melody. They make it to Marta and the Mambo Cabana where she performs (Gloria Estefan at last) but standing in their way are security and Gabi’s irate mother.
Vivo is Sony Pictures Animation’s first musical film. Amazingly enough, the film was first pitched by Miranda to DreamWorks Animation all the way back in 2010. The film made little progress and was eventually canceled in 2015 when the company went through restructuring. Sony Pictures Animation then took on the film a year later. This was prior to Gloria Estefan being involved.
The film has been well-received critically, with most critics, rightfully so, focused on Miranda. But also receiving high praise is Gloria Estefan. Sean P. Means from The Movie Cricket says, “Miranda sings most of the songs, sometimes duetting with young Simo, and his expressive voice works on the material – though Estefan, in the lovely final act, steals the show with her beautiful voice.”
Gloria Estefan is not a noted actress. She has been in front of the camera on numerous occasions, though those mainly revolved around the music videos she first made as a member of Miami Sound Machine, and then later on during her solo career.
All of this (singing career, movie career) almost found a tragic early end when Estefan was out touring for her first solo album, “Cuts Both Ways”. She was actually returning from a meeting with then-President George Bush, discussing an anti-drug campaign. A semi-truck crashed into her tour bus, critically injuring Estefan.
Gloria Estefan’s injuries included a fractured spine in which the singer couldn’t lift her legs. Surgeons from NYU Langone Medical Center ended up having to permanently implant two titanium rods in order to stabilize her vertebral column.
Gloria Estefan’s rehab was almost a year-long and her physical therapy was intense. It became so bad that Estefan says via Tulsa World “there were times when the pain was so bad I prayed I’d pass out.” Things got even scarier for Estefan when she received a letter from her throat doctor warning her that the crash may have some effect on her voice.
“It was a little scary for me. … It was a very joyous day for me when I sang. I had thought at the beginning that if I couldn’t perform live, I could at least perform on the records,” said Estefan. Thankfully, Estefan was able to overcome her serious injuries and not lose her voice in the process.
Gloria Estefan has gone on to win numerous awards for her vocals as well as crossover to actually star in films. Her first foray into the movie business was the 1999 Wes Craven film, Music of the Heart where she starred opposite film legend, Meryl Streep.
From there, Estefan appeared in the sitcom Frasier, the musical TV series Glee, the feature film A Change of Heart, and most recently the TV series One Day at a Time.
Up next for Gloria Estefan is Father of the Bride, a remake of the hit films, first from 1950 of the same name, then the 1991 remake starring Steve Martin. This remake will feature a Cuban family led by Andy Garcia which will also star Adria Arjona, Enrique Murciano, and Isabela Merced (Dora and the Lost City of Gold). You can hear Gloria Estefan, as well as Lin-Manuel Miranda, in Vivo, the #1 film now playing on Netflix.