By Bill Wine
Time flies when you’re having fun. As do the birds in bright and breezy Rio.
Aimed at kids of all ages and hitting that target spot-on, this computer-animated musical comedy adventure reminds us yet again that we are living smack-dab in the middle of the Golden Age of Animation.
Blu, voiced by Jesse Eisenberg, is a rare macaw, seemingly the last male of his kind, domesticated, flight-challenged, and living in the small, snow-covered town of Moose Lake, Minn.
Jewel, voiced by Anne Hathaway, is also a macaw, but is an aggressively independent creature literally flying high in Rio de Janeiro.
If only this odd couple of birds could meet, perhaps they would be macaws for celebration.
Cue the ornithologist, who talks Blu’s reluctant owner into helping him get them together to mate and save their species from extinction. So it’s off to sunny Rio, where this displaced Blu bird becomes an immediate fish out of water.
The problem is that these macaws ruffle each other’s feathers: their initial chemistry is for the birds. She finds him far too nerdy and unadventurous, an overprotected pet who doesn’t even fly. He finds her far too pushy and controlling and reckless, a loose cannon taking dangerously self-destructive chances.
To make matters worse, they find themselves shackled together when they’re snatched by poachers with birdnapping on their minds and dollar signs where their eyes ought to be.
For Blu, who was abducted from the tropical Brazilian jungle as a young bird, this is a nightmare relived.
The animated re-creation of the Brazilian rainforest that opens the film is breathtaking, drenched in tropical color, while the depiction of real-life Rio de Janeiro, including the climactic Carnival, that we experience later is nothing short of astonishing. This is CGI photorealism at its very best.
Brazilian-born director Carlos Saldanha (the Ice Age trilogy and Robots), working from a lively script by Don Rhymer, manages to mail a love letter to his hometown while simultaneously fashioning a wonderful entertainment for the family audience. And the subtle ecological message that is built so smoothly into the premise never gets in the way of the entertainment values that make Rio such a delight.
The infectious samba and bossa nova music that we hear in the background throughout certainly enhances our animated pleasure, but the film’s occasional musical numbers, while entertaining enough as they proceed, are not especially memorable and more or less inconsequential.
Eisenberg and Hathaway do fine voice work in the leads, backed up nicely by Jemaine Clement as a villainous cockatoo named Nigel, and a supporting voice cast that includes Leslie Mann, George Lopez, Jamie Foxx, Tracy Morgan, and Will.i.am.
And a word about the current 3-D craze: this film so bursts with color that it seems a shame to reduce its brightness, which is exactly what happens when you slip on those dark glasses. In other words, the price you pay for added visual depth, already an overrated feature of movie watching, isn’t just the couple bucks, it’s also the compromised color palette you’re staring at for an hour and a half.
Rio flies higher in 2-D.
So we’ll dance the samba wearing 3½ stars out of 4 for a high-flying, breakneck-paced, terrifically engaging, and visually splendiferous animated treat. Rio is grand.