Big colorful birds have adventures in big colorful Brazil in Rio, a light and fun animated movie from Blue Sky Studios, the people behind the Ice Age movies.
Blu (voice of Jesse Eisenberg) is a blue macaw who was born in Brazil. But when he was just a hatchling, he was snatched up by some exotic-bird smugglers and shipped far far away from his tropical paradise — to Minnesota, where he was found and adopted by Linda (Leslie Mann). Linda was a nerdy little girl who knew all about birds and grew up to be a nerdy young woman who runs a bookstore and spends most of her time hanging out with her best friend, Blu, who is now a fully grown, fully domesticated bird. He may not be able to fly, but he knows how he likes his hot chocolate (six marshmallows, please).
One icy winter day, Tulio (Rodrigo Santoro) comes skidding and slipping in to Linda’s shop looking for Blu. An ornithologist from Brazil, Tulio tells Linda that Blu may very well be the last male of his species and, as it happens, he has in his lab the last female of the species, Jewel (Anne Hathaway). If Linda will bring Blu to Brazil, perhaps he can help create another generation of blue macaws. (And, not for nothing, the glasses-wearing bird fanatic Tulio may be a perfect species match for the librarian-ish Linda.)
When Blu arrives at the cage ready to do his part for the ecosystem, he finds the feisty Jewel determined to escape. A wild bird not accustomed to humans, she is certain that the only way to survive is to find a way out. Her dim view of people is confirmed when a thief sneaks in to the lab and steals the two birds to sell to a smuggler. And thus begins the quest — for Blu and Jewel to escape the grasp of smuggler Marcel (Carlos) and his evil-and-crazy bird Nigel (Jermaine Clement) and find their way back to Linda and the wild, respectively.
A crazy bird played by half of Flight of the Conchords sounds like it should work, but it doesn’t. Everything to do with Nigel falls flat, from his Song of Evil Intent (I don’t know if this movie is a musical, technically, but it does have a few plot-related songs) to his whole character motivation. The bumbling smugglers would have been just fine as villains, this being primarily a bird-on-the-town kind of story about a pet learning to find his wild side and learn to fly (literally).
And, as far as it goes, that part of the movie works just fine. Along the way, Blu and Jewel (who are chained together and so have to stick it out as a pair for a good chunk of the action) meet some street-smart birds — Nico (Jamie Foxx), Pedro (Will.i.am) and Rafael (George Lopez) — and one Tracy-Jordan-ish bulldog Luiz (Tracy Morgan). These characters are reasonably successful, offering moments of light humor, particularly from Rafael and Luiz.
And, while a cartoonified version of Brazilian music, the music was mostly pretty nice — upbeat and peppy and a good match for the movie’s brilliant colors. The visuals were truly where Rio shined. We get sparkling dancers (it is Carnival in Rio, of course), glittering parade floats, jewel-colored birds and a mix of sun-baked neighborhoods and lush greenery. I found myself occasionally underwhelmed by the action on screen and sort of zoning out on the pretty, pretty pictures dancing across the 3D-enhanced screen. (On the 3D: It was successful but likely quite unnecessary.)
Lovely images, reasonably entertained children, peppy music — Pixar need not shake in its boots, but Rio delivers a satisfying 90-plus minutes of entertainment. B-
Rated G. Directed by Carlos Saldanha and written by Saldanha and Don Rhymer, Rio is an hour and 36 minutes long and distributed by 20th Century Fox.