Carlos Saldanha's Rio
Here's the link to the published version of my review in my column at The Richmond Examiner:
At first look, “Rio” appeared to be another family-friendly movie for kids filled with bright colors and talking animals. To put it simply, it looked very generic as these are the elements that you would usually find in an animated film targeted for youngsters. However, while it does contain these elements, the film itself is actually better than the trailers made it look due primarily to its fun story and a good dose of laughs.
As the film opens, we see several tropical birds in a rainforest flying about, living out a normal day in their lives, when suddenly several of them are captured by an exotic bird company. Included in this group of captured birds is Blu (Voice of Jesse Eisenberg), a Blue Macaw who ends up in the hands of a little girl in Minnesota. In a montage, we see 15 years pass in photographs where the girl, Linda (Voice of Leslie Mann), and Blu are always together.
In present day, we find them running a bookstore together where they have become accustomed to a certain routine. One day, an ornithologist, Tulio (Voice of Rodrigo Santoro), visits her store all the way from Rio to inform her that he has the only other Blue Macaw left (luckily a female) and that, for the sake of the species, she must bring Blu to Rio to be with her. After some initial hesitation, Linda agrees and brings Blu to meet Jewel (Voice of Anne Hathaway), who is not exactly receptive to being with a bird she just met.
Her main thought is of escape whereas Blu has basically been domesticated and is used to such a life. However, they find they have bigger problems than each other when they are captured and brought to a shady bird seller who plans to make lots of money from these extremely rare birds. Now Blu must also begin to contemplate escape in order to return to Linda.
Starting off with the story, it’s not exactly one that we haven’t seen several times before (a pet gets separated from its owner and has to find them), but the story remains fun and entertaining thanks to the exotic locations and colorful (and I mean that in more than one sense) characters. Eisenberg, fresh from his Oscar nomination, injects Blu with a lot of spirit. Blu is quite the character. He’s one of the last of his kind, can’t fly, and knows practically nothing about the outside world, so when he’s brought to Rio, all the things he experiences are things he never thought he’d get to see or do. This never bothered him before since he was quite content living out his days with his best friend and companion Linda.
Then there’s Jewel, who wants nothing more than to live free as a…well, a bird. She can’t stand being locked in a cage, forbidden to fly around in the open air with the other birds. With these two, we get a rather interesting clash of personalities. The film is also populated with other interesting characters such as Rafael (Voice of George Lopez), a toucan who tries to teach Blu how to get Jewel interested in him. This leads to some of the films lighter moments as well as some good laughs.
That brings us to the second element that made “Rio” rather enjoyable. There were actually several comedic moments that garnered everything from a smile to a good chuckle. The humor ranges from sight gags to several pieces of fast, witty dialogue, but what makes a lot of it work, and was a rather nice delight, was that none of the humor is forced, as opposed to last week’s completely laugh-free “Your Highness” where all of it was forced. It just goes to show that sometimes writers coming up for jokes for kids can be more successful at making everyone laugh (including this adult) than those that would aim low and attempt to get laughs that way.
The storyline to “Rio” may be completely predictable, but it’s a film for kids, so you should be expecting the standard outcome anyway. There’s some unnecessary musical numbers, but they’re pretty short, so they don’t get in the way too much. The film is bright and visually great to look at, so do yourself a favor and see it in 2D instead of having the colors dulled down for the 3D process. This is simply a film that both kids and parents can enjoy together, which, according to the consensuses for other recent kids’ films, hasn’t happened for awhile, so my advice would be to take advantage of it. 3/4 stars.
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