“Rio” is fun and forgettable. It’s a competently made animated film crafted specifically for the toddler set, who may enjoy the bright colors and boingy action. Older kids and parents will find themselves, if not quite bored, only modestly engaged.
Still, it’s got appealing stars like Anne Hathaway and Jesse Eisenberg doing the voices, as well as two or three songs worth tapping a toe. I can’t quite recommend it, at least not for anyone north of kindergarten age, but the cinematic world is not poorer for having it around.
This film is from Blue Sky Studios, the animation outfit behind those middlebrow “Ice Age” flicks, and director Carlos Saldanha takes a break from prehistoric mammals for a story about modern-day tropical birds. The original — and I use that term loosely — screenplay is by Don Rhymer, veteran of bottom-dwelling comedies like “Big Momma’s House” and “Deck the Halls.”
Eisenberg voices Blu, a rare blue macaw poached from his Brazilian rainforest home as a young’un and shipped to frozen Moose Lake, Minnesota. Things worked out, though, and he was adopted by Linda, a kindhearted bookworm of a girl who grew into the owner of a bookshop (Leslie Mann, in a nice emotive vocal performance).
True, he’s a nervous Nellie who’s a little too fond of his domesticated lifestyle and never got around to learning to fly. But he’s happy.
Or was, until Linda gets talked into bringing him back to Rio de Janeiro by Tulio (Rodrigo Santoro), an avian scientist. It seems he’s got the only female blue macaw left in the world and Linda has the only male (no word on how Tulio learned this fact, I should note), and in order to save the species, they’ve got to make some beautiful eggs together.
But it turns out the lady-in-waiting, Jewel (Hathaway), is not so patient with the dweeby Blu, wanting only to escape to freedom. They’re bird-napped by an unscrupulous thief, chained together and spend the rest of the movie in one big chase to see if they can escape the bad guys, fall in love and learn to fly (not necessarily in that order).
The Rio viewed in this movie is the prototypical image of sun-kissed beaches, colorful buildings and fun-loving people who are perpetually partying in the street. That Rio de Janeiro doesn’t exist for me anymore after the bleak truth of “City of God,” knowing the paint-splashed tin-roof domiciles hide a festering cancer of crime and crushing poverty. It’s not fair, but I resented this movie from trying to pull the veil back over Rio.
Though predictable, the film is not without its charms, derived mostly from a large cast of colorful — and mostly feathered — critters. Jamie Foxx and will.i.am. play a pair of local birds who offer Blu romantic advice and croon a soulful tune or two. George Lopez voices Rafael, a toucan and family man who’d prefer to party at Carnival. And Tracy Morgan plays a slobbery bulldog who can’t quite decide if he wants to help the birds or bite their heads off.
Jemaine Clement is a real treat as Nigel, a killer cockatoo who works for the bad guys. He’s a dastardly villain, though in a very PG-rated sort of way, sneering in his featured song, “I poop on people and blame it on seagulls!”
Hathaway sings a little too, and I find the sound of her voice never fails to make me smile. Actually, I think the entire cast sings at one point or another, and even the pinch-voiced Eisenberg adds a stanza or two in a surprisingly pleasing tenor.
I’m torn over “Rio.” There’s enough good stuff here that small children will probably enjoy it, at least in fits, but adults like me will find themselves checking their watches. It never quite achieves liftoff.