Fox // 2011 // 96 Minutes // Rated G
Reviewed by Judge Paul Pritchard // July 18th, 2011
"Your burgled baubles bore me."
Thanks in part to a tie-in with the popular Angry Birds game franchise, Rio -- the latest film from Blue Sky Studios (most famous for the Ice Age series) -- raked in an impressive box-office haul, not to mention generally favorable reviews. With an all-star cast, and visuals that rival Pixar, there is much to admire in Rio. However, will a screenplay that cribs from several animated features, and a complete refusal to break genre conventions, prove to be its undoing?
Having been snatched from the forests of Brazil as a mere baby, Blu (Jessie Eisenberg, The Social Network), a blue Macaw, has lived with Linda (Leslie Mann, Knocked Up) in a small town in Minnesota. Over the years, the two have formed a strong bond, with Blu so domesticated that he has never even flown. When an ornithologist named Tulio (Rodrigo Santoro) arrives in town, little does the pair realize that their lives are about to change forever.
Tulio informs Linda that Blu is the last male of his species, and that he is needed to return to Rio to mate with the last female Macaw. Though initially reluctant -- Linda and Blu are both set in their routine -- Linda eventually agrees, and so the two set off for Brazil. Once there, Blu is immediately introduced to Jewel (Anne Hathaway, The Devil Wears Prada), a feisty female Macaw who has no intention of getting jiggy with him. The two are forced to work together, however, when a gang of bird smugglers kidnaps them. With Linda and Blu separated for the first time, and in a country neither of them know, the race is on for the two best friends to be reunited.
You can tell when my young son really enjoys a film, as -- come the end credits -- he'll demand an immediate repeat viewing. This has led to seemingly endless reruns of Despicable Me and How To Train Your Dragon, but his reaction to Rio was somewhat more muted. He was entertained enough to sit through it, and his interests were clearly piqued during the musical numbers, but by the time the credits began to roll he was happy to find other forms of entertainment, seemingly having had his fill of Blu and his friends. God bless him, I can't fault his judgment one bit. It's not so much that there is anything really wrong with Rio, it's more a case of it doing little we haven't seen many times before.
While there's nothing wrong with a film keeping the narrative simple, it doesn't hurt for it to stay a step or two ahead of the audience and maintain some level of intrigue -- something to keep the viewer interested. Rio, perhaps in an attempt to ensure young children don't get confused, is desperately predictable. The total lack of mystery means the film begins to drag massively during a second act that clambers for direction, leading to a final act that sees the film end in an unsatisfying whimper.
It's a shame, too, as Rio begins quite well. The bond between Linda and Blue is sweet, and from the moment a young Linda takes in a stranded baby Blu, all but the most coldhearted viewer will find themselves charmed by the pair's loving relationship. Linda and Blu are inseparable (as is made clear when Linda declines a trip to see her parents on the grounds that she'd have to leave Blu behind), but is has meant neither has forged a real relationship with anyone else. Linda lives a spinster-like life, whilst Blu is mocked mercilessly by a pair of geese who find his domestication odd. Sure, it's the type of relationship that could only exist in the movies (Who, for example, would ever give their Macaw hot chocolate with marshmallows?), but it's kooky and it works. The moment ornithologist Tulio enters the film, and announces that Blu is the last male of his species, a nagging sense of inevitability sinks in. Before we know it the pair are whisked off to Rio, Brazil, where Jewel turns out to be a feisty female Macaw who is the polar opposite to Blu's domesticated, mollycoddled wimp. They're the original odd couple (except, of course, they aren't) who are forced to work together. At this point the film focuses on Blu's attempts to woo Jewel as he simultaneously tries to find his way back to Linda. It's also here that the aforementioned problems with pacing and direction come in.
Still, Rio is not a total bust. The voice cast, headed by Eisenberg and Hathaway, is excellent. Eisenberg, who is pretty much playing much the same role he did in Adventureland and Zombieland -- albeit now in bird form -- has a way of making the geeky characters he plays endearing, and Blu is no exception. Stealing the show, however, is Jemaine Clement (Flight of the Conchords) as Nigel, the villain of the piece; a dastardly cockatoo, Nigel's faultless elocution is matched only by his vindictive nature (witness how he coerces a monkey to assist him by dropping the poor critter from a great height). Will.I.Am (X-Men Origins: Wolverine) and Jamie Foxx (Ray) fill the roles of comedy sidekicks, and contribute to the film's most memorable musical number as Blu fumbles his attempt to woo Jewel whilst riding a tram through the suburbs of Rio.
Visually Rio is hard to fault. Character designs are distinctive enough to stand out, and are matched by the wonderful scenery. A sequence where Blu and Jewel soar over the street of Rio, accompanied by hang gliders, provides one of the most sumptuous visuals of the year. Likewise the finale, which incorporates the famous Rio Carnival, is gorgeous to behold. Thankfully these images are captured wonderfully on DVD, in an excellent 2.40:1 anamorphic transfer. The picture is sharp throughout, with a high level of detail. Colors are vibrant, and practically burst from the screen. Black levels are good, and there is a good sense of depth to the image. The 5.1 soundtrack also impresses, with a dynamic and lively mix. Dialogue is clear throughout.
The screener sent for review is for the two-disc "Ultimate Party Edition," and contains a good number of special features. Disc One contains the "Fruit Stand" deleted scene; a "Jukebox" that allows the viewer to play the numerous songs featured in the film; and two music videos: "Welcome to Rio," and "Telling the World," by Taio Cruz. Also included is a small section devoted to Angry Birds: Rio associated content. First up is a trailer for the game; the "Nigel Mashup," which sees the Angry Birds incorporated into a sequence from the film, and an "Exclusive Video Clue," which provides a code for downloading Angry Birds: Rio for the PC. Also included, but only accessible by watching the trailers, is the Ice Age short, "Scrat's Continental Crack Up," which features the rambunctious saber-tooth squirrel quite literally changing the face of the planet. Disc Two contains the bulk of the extras, and kicks of with "Explore The World Of Rio." This feature opens up a map of the city, and allows the viewer to select various landmarks or areas (such as the soccer stadium or the jungle), where they are treated to audio information specifically related to their chosen category, as well as photographs and videos. Next up is the "Saving a Species: One Voice At A Time" featurette, which concentrates on the voice actors, and how their work was incorporated into the film. "The Making of Hot Wings" goes behind the scenes with Jamie Foxx and Will.I.Am working on a musical number from the film. "Boom-Boom Tish-Tish: The Sounds of Rio" focuses on the way the distinctive Brazilian sounds were influential on Sergio Mendes's score. "Carnival Dance-O-Rama" gives the viewer the chance to dance along with the film's characters -- hardly the most essential extra, but short-lived fun for kids at least, while "The Real Rio" has the likes of Tracy Morgan tell us how great Rio is -- while carefully neglecting to mention the poverty and crime-ridden favelas (slums). Along with a theatrical trailer for Rio, the viewer can also get a sneak peak at Mr. Popper's Penguins, Million Moments, and Hoodwinked Too!.
It's likely most children will enjoy Rio, but it lacks enough identity to earn itself repeat viewings, and adults will soon tire of the mundane plot. Thankfully a good selection of extras, and an impressive presentation, make the DVD a winner. Just don't expect too much from the main feature.
Review content copyright © 2011 Paul Pritchard; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 2.40:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English, Descriptive)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
Running Time: 96 Minutes
Release Year: 2011
MPAA Rating: Rated G
* Music Videos
* Official Site
* Cinema Verdict Review