These days, everyone and their dogs are churning out computer animated feature length films in 3D, so the technical stuff isn’t new and impressive anymore. If you want to get noticed, you have to go back to the beginning – the story. The trouble is that hardly any animated movies like to give away their stories in their trailers, instead focusing on a particular character (like the yellow henchmen from Despicable Me) or a particular scene (like the falling off the cliff scene in Rio). So it can be hard to tell what the movie’s actually about. From later versions of the Rio trailer, I was able to glean this much story:
A pet bird who can’t fly is shipped to Rio de Janeiro to mate with the last female of his kind, only to find himself lost in the Brazilian jungle and pursued by poachers.
I had my doubts about it, because it’s a comedy and there was very little in the trailer that even made me smile. But now that I’ve seen the movie I can say: forget the trailer(s). There’s a lot more going on in the movie than they let on. The full version of the movie is cute, funny, and tightly scripted, which, as far as I’m concerned, is the animation trifecta. It’s no Wall-E, but it’s certainly worth the price of admission.
Often when I watch a movie, I’ll be able to tell what my final opinion of a movie (meh, good, excellent, must watch over and over, etc.) will be just by watching the opening. Animation studios must realize this, because they like to prep you by showing you a funny short before they get into the feature film. The short before Rio is Continental Crackup. Unsurprisingly, given that this is the studio that brought us Ice Age (which they remind us of approximately every 20 seconds), it stars Scrat the prehistoric squirrel-rat. I love Scrat. He’s cute and funny. But I also feel sorry for Scrat because he never actually gets to eat his acorn. Something always gets in the way.
Like having fallen into the center of the Earth.
Anyway Scrat had me cracking up before Rio even came on, and then we went uphill from there. Rio opens in the jungle with a bombastic parrot-based musical number (Oh yeah, Rio is a musical. Surprised? I was.) A tiny, adorable, blue macaw is just getting into the rhythm when he falls out of his tree (a la Legend of the Guardians) and is snatched up and taken for a pet (like in Finding Nemo).
Oh! But he’s so precious!
The tiny macaw ends up in Moose Lake, Minnesota, where a bespectacled young girl finds him. Fast forward through fifteen years of snapshots (how long do macaws live, anyway?) and the girl is now Linda (Leslie Mann) and the macaw is now Blu (Jesse Eisenberg). Linda and Blu are BFFs. They do everything together, including run a bookstore, and are habitual to the point of being neurotic. Blu can’t fly, but studying all those books has made him something of a bird genius.
Show me one other bird that can brush the teeth it doesn’t have.
Then everything gets turned upside down when they get a visit from Tulio (Rodrigo Santoro), an ornithologist from Brazil, who somehow found out that Linda has the only remaining male blue macaw in existence. He wants her to bring Blu to his bird sanctuary in Rio de Janeiro so Blu can mate with the female blue macaw that they have in captivity.
The macaws aren’t the only ones doing a mating dance, if you catch my drift.
They of course arrive just in time for Carnival, which is the one thing about Rio that most people know about. Blu’s first date doesn’t go well, because Jewel (Anne Hathaway) thinks of nothing but escape. And after an evil cockatoo named Nigel (Jemaine Clement) sells them out to a trio of poachers, she really thinks of nothing but escape.
Nigel is apparently evil because he is ugly, which means you should
probably keep a closer eye on the activities of your homely neighbors.
Blu and Jewel do end up getting free, but there are a few problems: for one thing, Blu can’t fly. For another, Blu and Jewel are chained together. And finally: Nigel and the poachers are trying to get them back. The chained together thing is just a screenwriting tool to force Jewel and Blu, who don’t get along initially, to stay together.
You literally cannot get rid of me.
But the flying thing is the thematic heart of the story. The Jewel and the jungle birds Blu meets along the way all try to help him discover his flying instinct, but in the end it is something he must find on his own. flightlessness might have been annoying, especially since it’s paired with a neurotic personality. It also might have put Blu on unequal footing in his budding relationship with the extremely assertive Jewel, but Blu has other talents that make up for it. He can do math, climb, open doors, and even dance.
Coincidentally, dancing is also great for relationship development, even if you’re a jungle bird.
Linda and Tulio are of course out looking for them with the help of a young street boy named Fernando (Jake T. Austen), whom the screenwriters (Don Rhymer and Carlos Saldanha) are careful to point out is an orphan so when Linda and Trulio get together in the end like you know they’re going to, they can adopt him and become a great big happy family. It’s pretty obvious where everything is leading, but it’s the journey that’s important, and all the plot ends are woven, tucked up, and tied nicely. Everything comes to a head, naturally, during Carnival.
Which is the obligatory nod to Brazilian culture.
I was actually expecting more culture from Rio. Almost all of the voice cast is American and the one who actually is Brazilian is depicted in cartoon form as looking like a white guy (he looks a bit like Flint from Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs). They certainly sing a lot, but half of the songs are rap or R&B type numbers, probably because two of the main supporting characters are voiced by Jamie Foxx and Will i Am.
The one with the bottle cap on its head and the fat one with the absurdly tiny wings, respectively.
Tucan Sam there is played by George Lopez (closer, but still not Brazilian)
I’m not a fan of these musical genres (or of Samba, either, really) but they’re infinitely better than that one annoying song the lemurs sing over and over again in Madagascar. When Rio trotted out a gang of Marmosets I was worried it would head in that direction too, but luckily they’re pickpockets, not dancers.
They screech and they know how to text. Look out, tourists.
Instead, the award for most annoying musical number has to go to the one at the end, where someone had the not-so-bright idea of having Jesse Eisenberg sing. I think a real macaw would have sounded better. Singing aside, the movie is actually pretty engaging, mostly because it’s funny. In the trailers, they only show you the lame cartoon-physics slapstick.
AKA the kind of stuff only kids laugh at.
This might lead you to think that that’s the only type of humor in the film, but it’s not. There are some decently funny one-liners as well as physical comedy (not involving bouncing off bums… so lame) that had me cracking up. Even my mom laughed, and it’s really hard to make her laugh.
So overall, I really liked Rio. Story wise, it’s got healthy doses of Finding Nemo, Bolt, Madagascar, and Alpha and Omega along with some original material, which is enough different sources that you can’t call Rio a ripoff. Add in the fact that it’s cute, bouncy, and funny, and you’ve got a winner. Just not an Oscar winner.