“Rio” is by definition a formula film. After watching its trailer you should be able to figure out essentially every major plot point before it happens. It's “101 Dalmatians” meets the love story of “Shrek,” starring birds. But “Rio,” for all its unoriginality, is immensely entertaining.
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Blu (Jesse Eisenberg) is a Blue Macaw whose domesticated life in Minnesota with bookstore owner Linda (Leslie Mann) has left him flightless yet book-smart. He also happens to be the last male of his species. To keep his kind from becoming extinct, Tulio (Rodrigo Santoro), a Brazilian ornithologist, brings Linda and Blu to Rio de Janeiro where Jewel (Anne Hathaway), the last female Blue Macaw, is being kept in a bird sanctuary. But efforts to breed Blu and Jewel go south when a gang of bird smugglers, with the help of a villainous cockatoo named Nigel (Jemaine Clement), kidnap the birds and try to smuggle them out of Rio. The birds escape, but not before being chained together – the flightless Americanized geek Blu and the fiercely independent Jewel. It's a race against time as Linda, Tulio, and the thieves hunt for the birds, and the world's biggest party, Carnival, hits the streets of Rio.
“Rio” is not a heavy, Oscar-worthy film like “Up” or “Toy Story 3.” This lighthearted adventure avoids a truly serious antagonist, in that while Nigel (played in dry villainy by Clement) is pretty mean, his human counterparts are essentially buffoons. The romance of Blu and Jewel serves as comic relief, as the nerdy Blu struggles to find his inner romantic, and unwittingly wins Jewel because of it.
What makes “Rio” stand out is its beauty. Rio de Janeiro is nes
tled in the jungle of Brazil, and the lush vegetation and striking animal life are flamboyantly colored in this animated feature. The gaudy Carnival complements this setting. It is juxtaposed by the seedy underbelly of Rio – the slim, dirty streets and smuggler's hideout could be worlds away from the frivolity of Carnival.
Carlos Saldanha, director of the “Ice Age” franchise, has put his signature organized chaos into “Rio,” and having flight and 3D to work with definitely played to this strong suit. Having a bird as his protagonist gave Saldanha plenty of wheeling and diving aeronautics to exploit.
The film also boasts the vocal talents of Jamie Foxx and Will.i.am, and the soundtrack has a definite South American bent with a bit of Black Eyed Peas flair.
Eisenberg gives the nerdy Blu life, though Hathaway's feisty Jewel outshines him. They are supported by a great cast of comic characters, most hilariously by Tracy Morgan as the slobbering bulldog Luiz.
But perhaps the best reason to see “Rio” is the “Ice Age” short at the film's beginning, featuring one of the greatest animated characters ever: Scrat. The short takes Scrat's eternal search for a safe acorn haven to a continent-altering new level.