The sixth film from Blue Sky Studios, Rio is a pleasant, sporadically hilarious animated comedy that falls right in line with the company’s previous movies (including 2002’s Ice Age and 2005’s Robots). Director Carlos Saldanha does a nice job of moving the narrative along at a relatively brisk clip, and although the movie does suffer from a rather uneven midsection, Rio closes with a surprisingly engrossing final stretch that sends the viewer out on a high note.
This isn’t to say that Rio is in any way comparable to the best that the animation genre has to offer, as Saldanha, working from Don Rhymer’s screenplay, has unapologetically geared the movie primarily towards small children. Unlike, say, 2011’s Gnomeo & Juliet, however, Rio does contain a small yet potent array of elements designed to hold the interest of older viewers – including an irresistibly eclectic voice cast and a periodic emphasis on laugh-out-loud funny comedic bits and asides.
When we first meet him, Blu is a baby macaw who is celebrating and dancing with his feathered friends in the jungles of Rio de Janeiro. But the festivities are interrupted when unseen smugglers kidnap many of the birds and transport them all the way to Minnesota, where Blu eventually winds up in the care of a scrappy young girl named Linda. 15 years later, Linda (Leslie Mann) and Blu (Jesse Eisenberg) have settled into a happy domestic routine, as Blu spends his days keeping Linda company in the small bookstore that she owns and operates.
It’s the arrival of a Brazilian scientist that sets the plot into motion, as Tulio (Rodrigo Santoro) convinces Linda to bring Blu to Rio de Janeiro in the hopes that he’ll mate with a female macaw to keep the species going. Once in Brazil, Blu is shocked to discover that the other macaw (Anne Hathaway’s Jewel) wants nothing more than to escape back into the nearby jungles. Before either Blu or Jewel can do anything, however, smugglers break into the facility and take them back to a seedy holding area filled with other birds.
From there, Blu and Jewel eventually make their escape and embark on a journey through the villages and jungles of Brazil – with their trip bringing them into contact with a wide array of quirky figures (including Tracy Morgan’s enthusiastic bulldog Luiz and Jamie Foxx’s quirky cardinal Nico).
The Voice Cast
Right off the bat, it’s clear that Jesse Eisenberg’s performance as Blu is going to be a problem. The actor’s distinctive voice and delivery ensure that the viewer is always aware that they’re listening to The Social Network’s Eisenberg, in much the same way that the viewer was always aware that they were listening to Jay Baruchel in 2010’s How to Train Your Dragon. Fortunately, the rest of the cast fares much better – from Leslie Mann’s surprisingly charming turn as Blu’s human companion to Anne Hathaway’s fiery work as Blu’s love interest. Among the supporting players, Tracy Morgan steals the show as Luiz the friendly bulldog, while Jemaine Clement delivers an appropriately sinister performance as the film’s chief villain, a feared cockatoo named Nigel.
The Bottom Line
A final word of warning for potential viewers: Rio boasts perhaps the most needless use of 3-D since the format’s recent resurgence several years ago. The movie’s brightly-lit and colorful visual style is dramatically dulled by the dark 3-D glasses, which proves especially problematic during the stretch set at Rio de Janeiro’s annual Carnaval festival – with the thousands of dancing, celebrating human extras transformed into a mush of dimly-lit figures thanks to the 3-D process. It’s so bad, in fact, that most viewers are destined to leave the theater thinking that they would have been better off waiting for the Blu-ray.
Rio was directed by Carlos Saldanha and is rated G for all audiences.
Theatrical Release Date: April 15, 2011