Rio is a colorful and entertaining animated film for all ages that does its best to match the classic Disney style and formula. Bright, lively, optimistic and brisk, Rio gleefully continues Twentieth Century Fox Animation’s long string of hits: the Ice Age series (2002 – 2006 – 2009), Robots (2005) and Horton Hears a Who (2008). With a great voice cast, an uplifting, emotional story and solid character designs, the film ramps up the fun with well-timed and bouncy musical numbers. That may be the best way to describe Rio: fun!
The story is simple. Through a series of events, a rare blue spix’s macaw named Blu (Jesse Eisenberg) falls into the hands of young Linda (Leslie Mann) who pledges to take care of him forever. Together they forge a tight bond that lasts for years as Linda grows up to become the owner of a used book store in Moose Lake, Minnesota. Linda is approached by Tulio (Redrigo Snatoro), a scientist from Rio de Janeiro, who claims that Blu is the last male of his species. Soon they are off to Rio to meet with Jewel (Anne Hathaway), the last female. The rocky feathered romance is sidetracked when the birds are kidnapped by a bumbling trio of smugglers. With the help of a toucan, a red-crested cardinal, a canary and a bulldog, Blu and Jewel flee their captors. Well, it sounded simple at the time. The whole caboodle is kept to a fast pace, zooming from one scene to another, introducing new, funny characters whenever possible.
Rio is full of great characters. They may not be as memorable as Manny, Sid, and Diego, but they’re just as entertaining. Blu is an exceptionally sympathetic character – insecure, awkward, and very domesticated. He is very happy and comfortable with his life as Linda’s pet. He’s not interested in living a life far outside of the confines of his cage. Jewel is the opposite; she is a free spirit and being caged is the worst thing imaginable. She lives to soar through the skies while Blu has yet to learn how to fly. Not exactly a match made in heaven and that makes their scenes together click and sing. Both Jesse Eisenberg and Anne Hathaway bring a lot of character and emotion to Blu and Jewel. Eisenberg brings that subtle flair to Blu that was present in his monologues and narration in Zombieland.
The assorted topical birds, marmosets and bulldogs that make up the vast supporting characters are pure delight. After escaping the smugglers, our heroes first meet a wily toucan name Rafael (George Lopez) who shrewdly negotiates a plan to help Blu and Jewel and escape the his nest full baby toucans in the process. Pedro (Will.i.am) and Nico (Jamie Foxx) are a mix-matched pair of birds who join our heroes in their escape. They sing and dance and toss about one-liners. They’re infectious. Luiz (Tracey Morgan), a bulldog, rounds out the cast of good guys and nearly steals the show. “I don’t know how I got here, but I’m never coming down,” he bellows while dancing atop a Carnivale float, bringing down the house. He also has the most memorable and familiar character design with his big, drooling smile. Nigel (Jemaine Clement) is the villainous cockatoo with an attitude. He’s mean, scary and funny with an evil wit.
A big surprise in Rio is the human characters who get much larger roles in the story than usual for an animated film. Many times, the human characters in animated features become little more than backdrop or plot devices to move the story. In Rio, Linda get a full subplot story arc. Her story is equally engaging and moving, mostly because it both supports the bond between her and Blu and serves to give Blu’s story the continued conflict of choosing to return to Linda or stay with Jewel. As she continues to search for Blu and Jewel, Linda develops a relationship with Tulio in classic comedy romance fashion – and it works, providing a sympathetic, dramatic draw for the adults that doesn’t rely on out-of-date references or thinly-veiled adult humor. The trio of smugglers are harmless buffoons, nasty and scary but remaining very kid friendly for villains – in fact, their cockatoo henchmen, Nigel, is infinitely more frightening than they ever are. Then there’s Fernando, a Brazilian teenage orphan who works for the smugglers but decides to help Linda in rescuing Blu. His character is affording more depth than all the other human characters, perhaps even Linda as well. His story isn’t fully developed, but could easily be expanded to support a story all his own. Fernando is the best example of what Rio has going for it, a large collection of absorbing and interesting characters.
3D is great for animated films and Rio may be one of the better examples. With the lush, vibrant colors, beautiful and vast landscapes and exhilarating flying scenes, Rio really uses the 3D to its advantage. It never goes full bonkers with throwing stuff out at the audience but it toys playfully with breaking that boundary. Beaks stick out of the screen or birds fly out over the audience. Or the hand of the famous statue of Christ Redeemer glides miraculously overhead as the birds fly by, riding on hand gliders. It is remarkably well done. Rio is a great location for the 3D as well with its variety of locations: the jungles, the Carnivale, the crowded streets, the cliffs. But most of all, Rio de Janeiro is perfect from the sky. When the birds take flight, it is inspiring and magnificent.
Rio is a great kids film, a beautiful animated film and an entertaining 3D film. The story is heartwarming and successfully tugs at the heart strings as well with its touching, emotional story. It is also full of action and great locations. It has a breathtaking motorcycle chase, a series of daring escapes and rescues, an amusing brawl between a gaggle of misfit birds and a barrel of misdirected marmosets and lively musical numbers. Rio is about as close to classic Disney as you can get without actually being a classic Disney film. Its brisk pace, colorful characters and humorous script make Rio a perfect all-age friendly comedy adventure.