Rio (2011) - Can't Stop the Movies
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Rio (2011)

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Had Rio been released into a vacuum it might be one of the surprise entertainments of the year.  As it stands, it owes a very firm debt to it's predecessors in the FOX Animation division (most notably the Madagascar series) and quite a few throwbacks to classics of the late 80's/early 90's Disney output.  But even if it outright lifts some of the sequences from that era it still functions as a fun animated film in it's own right, even if the talent on display deserves more originality.

Jesse Eisenberg, in particular, has quickly become one of the best young actors around and proves with his vocal performance in Rio that he could easily sidestep the "real world" if he wanted to do this full time.  He's the voice of Blu, the last male blue macaw after a dance sequence in the beginning is interrupted by a mass kidnapping (and presumably killed).  It's to director Carlos Saldanha's credit that this sequence doesn't stop the film firmly in place but allows Blu's existence to tumble along into the arms of Linda (Leslie Mann).

One of the aspects of the film I found very amusing was the way that Linda uses her adoration of Blu to stunt her own romantic growth.  A quick throwaway shot of her prom (Blu on her arm while her date is barely in frame) suggests a strange attraction that the plot does little to dissuade.  This is further intensified by the appearance of Tulio (Rodrigo Santoro), an ornithologist who has been searching for Blu so that he can mate with the rambunctious Jewel (Anne Hathaway) and produce a new little of adorable blue chicks.

As much as I did enjoy Rio, I can't help but contemplate what Martin Rosen would have done with the same material.

Blu loves humans, Jewel distrusts them, and for the most part the rest of their love plot writes itself.  While off to the side, Jewel and Tulio continue their own strange attraction by comparing each other to their favorite birds and then eventually realizing their full romantic potential when they dress up as Blu and Jewel.  This is, no doubt, strange to the adult viewer keen to the sight of two fully grown humans in blue glittery bird costumes but Rio is well aware of this and has quite a few funny moments playing with this bizarre attraction.

Truth be told, I think that Rio would have been far more funny and subversive had they made their B-plot into the focus.  But originality issues rear their old head and the birds find themselves on the run from a bird smuggler (shades of 101 Dalmatians here), get romantic advice from two dopey sass talking birds (a bit of The Little Mermaid), help Blu learn to fly (Dreamworks' much superior How To Train Your Dragon) and dance to a number of songs (just about every Fox or Dreamworks animated movie in existence).  All of this would be a bit too tired if the movie wasn't so bloody likable.

Visually speaking it's very pleasant.  The animation chirps along with it's Brazilian backdrop and makes great use of the explosion of colors that comes with the territory.  The character animations are also quite impressive.  Blu turns out to be quite the jittery physical comedian (think an agile Woody Allen trapped in a flightless bird) and is always a pleasure to watch interacting with the similarly lively supporting cast.

The flight and fight scenes are very impressive and stand as a great dangerous contrast to the bright colors and characters.

Eisenberg tempers his nervous energy to hilarious effect, especially when he's describing something he dislikes ("I hate samba!  It all sounds the same.  Tico taco ya ya ya!")  But even without his performance the voice work by everyone is superb.  People that I am normally suspicious of when it comes to their popularity ( and George Lopez) have a few funny moments to shine.

But the twin jewel in Rio's crown stems from Jemaine Clement's (Flight of the Concords) role as the  villainous Nigel, a former star Cockatoo who fell from grace after being replaced by an exotic bird.  Clement has strangely little screen time but fills his voice with a delightful level of self-satisfied narcissism tinged with just a hint of danger that Dennis Hopper would have been proud of.  He also gets to sing a song that, once again, could have been an alternate cut from The Lion King.  But it's charming in its celebration of Nigel's ego and most of the other songs, while largely forgettable, serve as a find accompaniment to the action.

Rio is too much a product of other movies to ignore their obvious influence, but the creators at least had the good sense to steal from some of the best.  It's a shame about that bird/human subplot though, I can scarcely imagine the hilariously awkward scenarios their human handlers might find themselves in.  Rio is already a smashing success, maybe a few more DVD rentals will convince them to make a truly bizarre sequel.

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Rio (2011)

Directed by Carlos Saldanha.
Screenplay by Don Rhymer, Joshua Sternin, Jeffrey Ventimilia, Todd R. Jones and Earl Richey Jones.
Starring Jesse Eisenberg, Anne Hathaway and Jemaine Clement.

Posted by Andrew

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