Blu (Jesse Eisenberg) is a blue macaw taken from Rio de Janeiro to Minnesota by smugglers as a chick. He is rescued, nurtured and kept safe by Linda (Leslie Mann), until one day when wildlife conservationist Tulio (Rodrigo Santoro) arrives.
Tulio explains that Blu is the last male of his species and needs to return to Rio to mate with Jewel (Anne Hathaway), the last female blue macaw.
If the basic premise of the story sounds familiar, don’t be surprised. The Lionsgate film “Alpha and Omega” had a similar idea driving it, as did the now canceled Pixar film “newt.” “Rio” may sell the formula better than its predecessors, but it is not a flawless film.
If you have the choice between seeing this film in 3D or in a regular format, go for the regular format. The 3D offers no added value here. At best, you get a few cheap predictable shots of objects flying toward the screen. Save the extra dollar and buy candy instead. I was really hoping the creators of the film would use 3D to develop a sense of depth in the flight scenes, but I was sorely disappointed.
On top of that, the cast members are not particularly amazing. Tracy Morgan, the voice of Luiz the bulldog, steals the show despite his character only appearing for the last act.
Everyone else sounded either uninspired or just plain weird. Jesse Eisenberg especially comes off as the least capable. His naturally fast style of speech is surprisingly unsuited for voicing an animated bird. There was a serious disconnect between the voice and the character design to the point where I felt it was detracting from certain scenes. To top it all off, he sings. Granted it is only for a few seconds, but it’s enough to show that Eisenberg won’t be starring in any upcoming musicals.
Speaking of singing, this movie loves dance parties. The major points in the film’s plot are almost always signaled by a dance party. It’s as though the makers of “Rio” heard all the complaints of recent animated films ending in dance parties and took them as a challenge. Even Nigel, a bitter and ugly cockatiel, has a completely unnecessary song explaining his back story and motivation.
To the movie’s credit however, the designs for all the birds featured in the film were great. The colors were bright enough to evoke a sense of the beauty of nature, but not bright enough to make you want to put on sunglasses. The character animation for Tulio, who has a … fondness for birds, was also great. His exaggerated, strange movements were good for a few laughs.
Ultimately, “Rio” feels like it’s a dime a dozen. Compared to other recent animated films like “Rango,” it’s just the same combination of stunt casting and predictable plot that’s been seen before. I expect that some will say a kid’s film shouldn’t be expected to live up to high standards. I disagree, and argue that it should be judged harshly precisely because it’s a kid’s film. Kids deserve better than plot-less dance parties.