'Rio' might not soar, but it doesn't crash

Posted: Thursday, April 28, 2011


Ap Photo/20th Century Fox
Ap Photo/20th Century Fox
In this publicity image released by 20th Century Fox, animated characters, from left, Raphael, voiced by George Lopez, Blu, voiced by Jesse Eisenberg, and Jewel, voiced by Anne Hathaway, are shown in a scene from "Rio."

Blue Sky Studios

1 hour, 36 minutes

2010 was, undoubtedly, one of the best years for kid's movies in a long time. "MegaMind," "How to Train Your Dragon," "Despicable Me," and, of course, the incredibly moving "Toy Story 3." Those are some pretty tough shoes to fill, so I have to remind myself that, just because this week's fish-out-of-water, or more precisely, bird-on-the-beach, animated spectacle, "Rio," isn't as good as those previously mentioned films, that doesn't mean it's bad.

The story centers around Blu, a rare Blue Macaw who, in the first few minutes of the movie, is unceremoniously poached from his South American home, crated across two continents, and accidentally dumped in the middle of a Minnesota winter. Luckily, this sad specimen of a baby bird is rescued by Linda, an awkward little girl in need of a friend herself. For the next 15 years, the two remain the best of buddies, rarely letting anyone into their inner circle, until the day that Tulio arrives from Brazil, announcing that Blu is actually the last male of his kind and needs to come home to Rio de Janeiro in order to meet Jewel, the last female, and, well, you know. It takes a little convincing, but, in order to move the plot along, Linda and Blu agree and hijinks ensue.

Naturally, Jewel is less a blushing bride-to-be than a feisty, independent bird on her own, and not interested in Blu at all. And even if our hero had any moves to try on his leading lady, he never gets the chance because before you know it, the two are bird-napped, and even more hijinks ensue, involving a colorful cast of characters from a wicked cockatoo and his monkey minions to a wisecracking toucan named Ralph.

"Rio" certainly looks good, the animation top-notch, as you'd expect from any of the big-budget cartoons of late. This one comes from Blue Sky, the studio that brought us the "Ice Age" movies. Blue Sky is definitely good at what they do, but not nearly as good as Dreamworks or Pixar. Still, it's not the animation that's lacking. "Rio" is in 3-D, a trend that I don't think is going anywhere, at least not for animated movies. The 3-D is fine, but not necessarily showy. There are no "jump out and grab you scenes," which I appreciate. The extra dimension simply adds depth and little else. What is pretty cool, however, are some of the flying scenes over the city. I was reminded of the early IMAX shows, which consisted of little more than a filmed helicopter ride, but were incredibly thrilling nonetheless. Even though its hero has a mental block about flying, there are times when "Rio" manages to soar.

On the other hand, the script never really gets off the ground. The movie is full of plot holes and story gaps that just seem lazy. One small example: how does Tulio ever even find out about Blu? Who knows? The movie assumes kids won't care, and I'm sure they're right, but to the adult viewer the story seems choppy and scenes of character or plot development are rudimentary, only existing for the barest amount of time necessary to propel our heroes into the next chase scene. It's frustrating, and makes the whole experience, even the scenes with the crazy side-characters, less enjoyable.

As far as the voice-acting goes, it's all about par for these kind of movies. Like "Kung Fu Panda," or "Bee Movie," big budget, high-concept animated vehicles that depend on big-name stars to lure in the adults, "Rio" is packed with the best and brightest. But is it necessary? Anne Hathaway and Jesse Eisenberg are good as Jewel and Blu, respectively, but why did we need will i am or Jamie Foxx, neither of whom were particularly recognizable in the roles of goofy side-kick birds. "Flight of the Conchords" actor Jemaine Clement is pretty funny as the evil cockatoo Nigel, but on the whole I think this movie would have been just as good with traditional voice-actors instead of big stars.

The whole spectacle of Carnival, which plays heavily into the plot, is cool to see, and the filmmakers certainly went all out on the representation of the parade floats and the thousands of brightly colored dancers. On the other hand, it also felt oddly contained, as if the festivities of the entire city were limited to the one main parade. Never having been, I can't say how accurate that is, and I'm sure there's a lot about a city-wide bacchanalia that you'd want to leave out of a kid's film, so I suppose I can forgive them for that.

In the end, cool visuals and a few clever songs are about all "Rio" has to offer. Don't expect to actually feel anything for the characters or to get particularly involved in the story, and you'll go in prepared. My 3-year-old and his buddy, however, had a blast. The two, who can barely stop chasing long enough to even acknowledge each other with a greeting, sat rapt from beginning to end. "Rio" has its core audience, and that's all it really needs.

Grade: B-

"Rio" is rated PG for mild rude humor and cartoon violence.

Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff whol lives in Nikiski.

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