What It Is
Kidnapped from his jungle home as a baby macaw, Blu (voiced by Jesse Eisenberg) is rescued by a very nice little girl named Linda (Leslie Mann). Together, they grow up in snowy Minnesota: she becomes a bookstore owner with a particular affection for her bird, and he becomes her constant companion, grateful for the hot chocolate and cookies she serves him every afternoon. Their lives are turned upside down when a Brazilian ornithologist named Tulio (Rodrigo Santoro) informs them that Blu is the last of his kind, then urges them to fly with him to Rio de Janeiro. Here, he hopes Blu will mate with the last female blue macaw, Jewel (Anne Hathaway), and so “preserve their species.”
The trip doesn’t quite go as planned. First, Jewel is put off by the nerdy and fretful Blu, and second, the birds end up stolen from the lab by exotic-animal traffickers. At this point they’re also chained together, which irks Jewel to no end, mostly due to the fact that Blu never learned to fly. This means that even when they do have a chance to escape — which they do — they have to walk, a crushingly slow mode of transportation for the dauntless and dynamic Jewel.
On making their escape, the birds must next find a way to break the chain, so that Blu can return to his domestic security and Linda, and Jewel can feel free at last in the big blue Brazilian skies. They enlist help from an array of supporting players who might have dropped in from any Disney movie — a couple of singing street birds (Jamie Foxx and will.i.am), a big-hearted bulldog, Luiz (Tracy Morgan), and a fast-talking toucan named Rafael (George Lopez) — in order to elude dastardly villains, including some bumbling humans, a squad of mercenary monkeys, and a gnarly cockatoo named Nigel (Jemaine Clement).
Blu and Jewel’s adventures are paralleled by Linda and Tulio’s, as they try to recover the birds. All four end up at a Carnival parade, with the humans dressed in sequined blue macaw-like outfits, complete with feathers and platform shoes. It’s not exactly a surprise that after a couple of chase scenes and narrow escapes, they sort out who belongs where and find their happy endings.
Why It’s Fun
Color! The major appeal of Rio is the color, which is bright and primary and incessant. From the birds to the favela alleys to the carnival costumes, Rio is here a grand and utterly fun place to be. Even the poverty-stricken neighborhood where the smugglers hide their goods and solicit their youngest worker, the ultimately good-hearted Fernando (Jake T. Austin), appears remarkably clean and quaint, rather than dangerous (which it must be for the homeless Fernando).
As much as jewel longs to fly again, the film makes clear why — with frequent soaring shots of Rio and the nearby sea and mountains. A hang-gliding scene makes suitable, use of the 3D technology, and also offers a view of an animated version of Rio’s famous Christ the Redeemer statue.
A couple of the songs are also fun, most especially the rapscallion Nigel’s life history, which he reveals in sometimes snarky lyrics and a series of telenovela-like flashbacks, cleverly melodramatic. Indeed, it turns out that he’s angry because he used to be a famous TV star, now abandoned by his fans.
As is typical of so many of today’s kids’ movies, sometimes the asides are as entertaining as the main action: so, when a few monkeys end up posed like the familiar “see no evil” trio, or when both Linda and Blu wax nostalgic for “cheese and sprinkles” (“It’s a Minnesota thing,” he explains).
Who’s Going To Love It
Fans of The Princess and the Frog, Beauty and the Beast, or the first Shrek (or even It Happened One Night, the 1934 Clark Gable/Claudette Colbert romantic comedy) will recognize the basic storyline here: hapless boy meets brilliant girl, and their is romance secured not only when he lives up to his potential, but also helps her to see past her own ambitions. It is, in effect, the boy’s romance.
Fans of director Carlos Saldanha’s Ice Age will also be pleased to see a similar formula at work here: the unlikely band of misfits come to be friends, encourage a central couple’s romance, and overcome assorted obstacles.
What To Be Aware Of
Nigel is a very mean and mad bird, indicated in part by the fact that he likes to eat chicken; at one point he tears at a chicken leg with such a fury that someone calls him a “cannibal.”
The birds’ first encounter with Luiz is exceptionally visceral. Initially, all you and they notice is the drool — which he sends spewing repeatedly in slimy drips and long threads from his lips. And then, when he offers to sever the birds’ chain with a circular saw, the tension builds briefly, as the sound is loud and Luiz is plainly not in control of his saw.
A fight scene between monkeys and birds is a bit frantic, visually. The Carnival parade is likewise noisy and chaotic.
The film features both direct and indirect allusions to the many facets of Carnival, not least being the tremendous pleasure that participants take in dressing up. Numerous costumes feature sequins, wings, masks, and feathers, as well as barely-there coverage. (The film doesn’t show people drinking or otherwise carrying on in provocative ways, just dancing and laughing and generally cavorting.) When one of the burly smugglers and then Luiz don sequined shorts and shake their booties, it’s hard not to notice the gender-bending, which is more cute than salacious or even very transgressive here.
5 out of 10
Director: Carlos Saldanha
Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Anne Hathaway, Leslie Mann, Rodrigo Santoro, George Lopez, Jamie Foxx, will.i.am, Tracy Morgan, Jemaine Clement
Studio: 20th Century Fox
US Premiere: April 15, 2011
UK Premiere: April 8, 2011