On DVD: Rio

Animated talking-animal films since the dawn of CGI have gotten much more prolific. Now that animals can be illustrated with ease and superb realism (namely in textures such as fur, feathers and scales), the supply can meet the demand and almost every major movie studio has either its own animation division or a relationship with an animation company. “Rio” is the product of Fox Animation and Blue Sky Studios, the team behind the “Ice Age” franchise.

With animated films coming out in rampant fashion, originality has taken a hit. The formula? Pick a country, climate or segment of the animal kingdom and set the exact same story there. So what started as a “fish-out-of-water” tale has become a bird/dinosaur/penguin/African animal-out-of-water story. “Rio” is a visually beautiful film with a sweet story and humorous supporting characters, but it contains not one original feather in its coat other than the Brazilian backdrop.

“Rio” tells the story of Blu (voiced by Jesse Eisenberg), a domesticated blue macaw that ended up in Moose Lake, Minn. in the care of a socially awkward bookworm named Linda (Leslie Mann). When an overenthusiastic ornithologist named Tulio (Rodrigo Santoro) shows up claiming Blu is the last of his species and he would like to mate him with the lone remaining female back in Rio de Janeiro, Linda is hesitant but agrees.

Eisenberg’s eccentricities fit Blu well and help sell the bird-out-of-cage story effectively. When he meets his mate-to-be, Jewel (Anne Hathaway), things couldn’t go worse. She wants desperately to escape and return to be free in the Amazon. Blu and Jewel are kidnapped, however, by a man who intends to sell them. Chained together, the must of course learn to like each other in order to survive. Oh, and it would help if Blu knew how to fly.

The writing team makes a concerted effort to infuse the film with the free spirit of Rio’s annual “Carnival” festival in hopes of adding a meaningful cultural element. It basically results in a few unexpected musical numbers and several overweight male characters dressing scantily, but it helps give “Rio” a distinctive flavor.

In my opinion, you go full musical or you don’t go musical at all, but the concept works better than you’d expect. Even the typical “statement of evil” song from back in the Disney days makes an appearance here and is actually quite funny. Jemaine Clement voices the evil cockatoo Nigel, one of the more sinister and intriguing animated enemies you’ll see in a film of this genre. He provides the necessary sense of danger for this all-too-typical adventure.

The character archetypes are the most bland: the out-of-its-element main character, the rebellious love interest, the wise mentor figure (George Lopez as Rafael the toucan), the tiny sidekicks (Jamie Foxx and will.i.am as Nico and Pedro) and the big lovable stupid acquaintance (Tracy Morgan as Luiz the bulldog).

Sure, there’s a reason animated films keep coming back to those character types, but “Rio” uses them to an unoriginal end. The moral and themes are tired and not given any renewed attention. Do you think that Blu learns how to fly by the end? I even went so far as to try and guess a line of dialogue: “Blu, you’re flying!” I would tell if you if I was right, but truth of the matter is “Rio” is still a light and enjoyable animated flick worth watching.


3.5/5 Stars


Directed by Carlos Saldanha
Written by Carlos Saldanha, Earl Richey Jones, Todd Jones, Don Rhymer, Joshua Sternin, Jeffrey Ventimilla, Sam Harper
Starring (voices): Jesse Eisenberg, Anne Hathaway, Leslie Mann, Rodrigo Santoro


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