‘Rio’ learns to fly, but not initially

There’s something about the thought of Rio de Janeiro that seems enticingly tropical, right?  Whether it’s the nearby rainforests, exotic wildlife or the steamy, humid romances one may find.  Exoticism is abundant in ‘Rio,’ from the tanned, scantly clad animated people attending “carnival” to the wildlife characters in the forms of macaws, tucans, monkeys, etc.  The story is about a bird named Blu who is captured by smugglers and taken to the states where he becomes the pampered pet of Linda (Leslie Mann).  But Blu soon learns he and the vicious Jewel are the last two macaws, thus the last hope for their species, but their union won’t go without interruption by smugglers.  Unfortunately, ‘Rio’ isn’t all it’s bawked up to be.

For starters, the one major issue found in ‘Rio’ is that the two main characters are not voiced by latino actors/actresses.  Blu is brought to life by Jessie Eisenberg (The Social Network) and Jewel is embodied by Anne Hathaway (The Devil Wears Prada).  Normally it doesn’t matter what the vocal ethnicity is in an animated feature, but in a film centralized in South America, wouldn’t it have been appropriate to have latino actors voicing the main roles?  Something about Eisenberg’s calculating, scientific voice works for the character “Blu” but it also grinds against some nerves with annoyance (Rodrigo Santoro, already a voice in the film would have been an amazingly perfect voice for Blu).  Hathaway is actually not quite as bad, but the role could have easily been given to Jennifer Lopez perhaps (just one example) and been that much more believable.

Next, the subject matter of exotic animal smuggling is very real and is confronted in perhaps the best way possible in a film rated G, but the villains, save the evil cockatoo, Nigel (Jemaine Clement, “Minion” from Despicable Me), leave a little bit more to be desired.  Combine that with cliche and cheesy one-liners and that basically sums up the script.

The true star of Rio isn’t the plot, nor the dialogue or even the vocal talent of the main birds, instead it lies in the originality of the songs, which may lead you to believe ‘Rio’ to be a product of Disney rather than Fox.  Jamie Foxx’s bird character “Nico” is probably a favorite, with his upbeat vocals and Ne-Yo, hip-hop inspired little soda cap hat.  ‘Rio’ lends itself fully to modern pop culture, full of influences, especially in the music, which has latin/samba flavors mixed with mainstream pop/hip-hop (clearly influenced by artists like Ne-Yo, Bruno Mars, early Chris Brown and Rihanna).

Entertaining?  Yes.  Amazing?  No.  It’s like the filmmaker, Carlos Saldanha was going for Up-esque affect at moments, but there are clear discerning factors between a Fox animation and a Disney/Pixar product.  ‘Rio’ had the potential, sadly though, sometimes the potential gets lost in unnecessary dialogue and is distracted by the wrong casting choices.  Who knows, maybe ‘Rio’ is one of those films that will grow on a viewer and over time become more and more favorable, but immediate impressions don’t make it an instant classic (like Up and Toy Story 3 in recent years), the immediate impressions just add it to the list of underwhelming animations this year.

‘Rio’ is rated G and runs approximately an hour and a half.

Grade:  B



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