Rio is one of those films that I missed when it had it’s initial run at the theaters. However, last week, I finally got a chance to see it at the “dollar” theater. Now, I have to admit that I consider the dollar theater to be something like the sixth ring of Hell and, before the movie started, I posted the following to twitter: “Wow, there’s a lot of ugly and obese children in this theater.” And indeed, that was the case. What I forgot to mention is that a lot of them were there with equally ugly and obese parents, the types who talked loudly through the film in accents that carried the dual twang of ignorance and stagnation. Despite the surroundings though, I found Rio to be a perfectly pleasant little animated film.
Rio is the story of Blu (voice by Jesse Eisenberg), a blue macaw who, though originally from Brazil, has grown up in Minnesota and, as a result, has never learned how to fly. Blu returns to Brazil with his owner (Lesley Mann) so that he can mate with another macaw, Jewel (Ann Hathaway) and keep the species from dying out. However, things don’t go exactly as planned as 1) Jewel is more interested in escaping captivity than in mating and 2) both Rio and Jewel are abducted by a psychotic Cockatoo named Nigel (Jermaine Clement). Nigel works for a bunch of poachers and soon Jewel and the flightless Blu find themselves on the run, looking for their owner while the Rio Carnaval goes on all around them.
As one of my old theater teachers one said about me, Rio “is not without a certain fun charm.” The film’s storyline of neurotic animals getting lost in an exotic locale and eventually finding the strength to believe in themselves is pretty much standard animation fare but the action moves along quickly and the movie takes full advantage of the whole Rio mystique. The film’s animators create the Rio de Janeiro that everyone hopes they’ll discover if they ever make it down to Brazil. Perhaps most importantly, Rio is child-appropraite without ever being so childish as to inspire adults to start drinking while the little ones laugh.
The voice actors all do a pretty good job distinguishing their individual characters. Jesse Eisenberg is perfectly neurotic as Blu while Anne Hathway’s vocals are properly headstrong as Jewel. The real stand-out here is Jermaine Clement of Flight of the Conchords. Clement, with his deep, wonderfully dramatic voice, brings a lot of flair to the villainous Nigel and, despite being a psycho Cockatoo, quickly became an audience favorite. Though the human bird owners don’t get much to do, Leslie Mann and Rodrigo Santoro are so endearing that you actually wish they had more screen time. On the other hand, if, like me, you found George Lopez to be grating before seeing Rio, this film isn’t going to do much to change your mind. (Lopez, not surprisingly, plays the know-it-all bird who helps Blu and Jewel make their way through Rio.)
As I watched Rio, I realized just how spoiled we all got last year as far as animated films were concerned. Last year, I got a chance to see Toy Story 3, How To Train Your Dragon, Shrek Forever After, A Town Called Panic, The Illusionist, Megamind, and Despicable Me. It was, in many ways, a banner year for cinematic animation. With the exception of Rango, there haven’t been any animated films so far that can really compare with what we were given last year. As a result, it’s easy to be dismissive of a straight-forward, relatively simple family film like Rio. That’s unfortunate because, taken on its own terms, Rio is a perfectly enjoyable way to spend 90 minutes. Just don’t go into it expecting to see Toy Story 3 and you’ll be fine.