I know I keep bringing this up every time I review a CGI-animated film, but it has to be asked: Is it fair to be compared to Pixar? On the one hand, Pixar is the premiere CGI studio and has been for more than fifteen years. On the other hand, it’s sometimes refreshing to see what other studios are capable of.
Blue Sky Studios, the people behind the successful Ice Age franchise and personal favorite, Horton Hears a Who!, have a new offering, Rio. With a very star-studded cast and some of the gorgeous visuals you’ll see in a CGI film, Rio is better than you might have expected.
…but not by much.
Rio is about a blue macaw, Blu (Jesse Eisenberg), that is smuggled out of Rio de Janeiro while he is young. However, he finds himself in the care of Linda (Leslie Mann), who vows to watch over him. Fifteen years later, Blu and Linda are the best of friends, running a book store in Minnesota when an ornithologist, Tulio (Rodrigo Santoro), urges Linda to bring Blu to Brazil to mate with another blue macaw, Jewel (Anne Hathaway), because he is the last surviving blue macaw. After arriving in Tulio’s bird shelter, however, they are birdnapped with the intention of being sold on the illustrious exotic bird black market. Despite escaping, Blu and Jewel are chained together and must find a way to return to Linda whilst the birdnappers’ cockatoo, Nigel (Jemaine Clement) chases after them. Through their adventure, Blu and Jewel make friendships with a variety of other birds played by will.i.am, Jamie Foxx, George Lopez, and a bulldog, Luiz, played by Tracy Morgan.
The big twist in Rio is that Blu is a bird that’s unable to fly. Gasp! Because of this and his domestication, Blu is characterized with so many neuroses, Woody Allen would have been given a run for his money. Luckily, Eisenberg has made a career out of playing awkward characters and he calls on his past roles to play Blu. That isn’t to say that Eisenberg’s acting is terrible. In fact, the overall casting in Rio is great. Sure, there are the obvious pop culture stars thrown in to add some mass appeal (will.i.am and Jamie Foxx, for example), but they do exceptionally well. Hathaway’s Jewel is a very confident, independent female, Clement’s Nigel is a smart and cunning antagonist, accented with his New Zealand accent, and Lopez’s Rafael is that nurturing, supportive best friend character. All of the stock pieces and characters you’re used to from other animated films are present in Rio.
The biggest surprise comes from Tracy Morgan’s Luiz. While only appearing in the second half of the film (and only for a handful of minutes), he definitely stole the show. It might be because I’m a huge 30 Rock fan, but Morgan’s lines had me laughing really hard. After all of the animated films I’ve watched for Flixist, it felt good to actually let out some genuine laughs. There are also a few great lines, my favorite line being, “I poop on people and blame it on seagulls.” I loved it so much, I broke a cardinal rule by e-mailing the rest of the staff that gem of a quote.
However, it’s not all fun and games. For some reason, director Carlos Saldanha wanted to make Rio more musical than his Ice Age films. Unfortunately, outside of the song with the aforementioned people pooping line, they’re really terrible and feel out of place. Maybe it was a way to legitimize will.i.am’s casting, or possibly the other way around, but it just didn’t work. Beyond that, the story isn’t gonna blow your minds or surprise you.
Rio is a simple and fun family film with a great cast and some of the brightest and liveliest visuals you’ll see in an animated film. However, outside of a few memorable scenes and the ever-lovable Tracy Morgan, you won’t be missing much if you opt out of seeing it. The best way to summarize Rio is to acknowledge whatever emotional heart the film lacks, it more than makes up for with its stellar cast and gorgeous visuals. Also, there’s a Birds vs. Monkeys fight.
Jenika Katz: 6.70 – Good. From the trailers, one would expect a plotless film about dancing birds. Rio does better than that, having an engaging (albeit obvious) plot and pretty fun characters. Tracy Morgan’s side character absolutely steals the show, but to get to his performance, you have to sit through will.i.am’s horrible “wacky” sidekick. The only main disappointment is Jemaine Clement as the villainous cockatoo Nigel, but the blame seems to lie more in the script than his performance. I saw the movie in 3D, and while the background work is stunning and the 3D really enhances it at times, the main visual appeal is in the color palette, so I’d recommend skipping on that feature. Overall, the film is pretty fun and worth seeing if you have a couple of hours to kill, but nothing terribly special unless you really like birds.