I usually try to alternate kid movies with dad movies, or at least stick to a 2-to-1 ratio to keep things somewhat balanced. But I fell short last month, and I needed to stock up on more reviews of kid flicks.
As fate, luck, and good timing would have it, the four of us got out to see a family-friendly movie together over Spring Break…
Set in Rio de Janeiro and the rainforest of Brazil, Rio centers on Blu (Jesse Eisenberg), a rare macaw who thinks he is the last of his kind. When Blu’s owner (Leslie Mann) is told that there's another — a female macaw — she takes Blue from the comforts of his cage in small-town Minnesota and heads with him to Rio. But it's far from love at first sight between domesticated, flight-challenged Blu and fiercely independent, high-flying Jewel (Anne Hathaway). Unexpectedly thrown together, they embark on an adventure where they learn about friendship, love, courage, and being open to life's many wonders.
With a lavish opening musical number featuring dozens of colorful tropical birds, Rio makes its intentions of a festive experience known immediately. Yet after that opening number, the festivities take a back seat as Blu and his owner make the tough decision to head to Rio and help his species survive by, um, “relating” with Jewel. (FYI: The mating concept is handled lightly and comically, so don’t worry about having to explain the birds and the bees – or in this case, the bird and the bird – to your kids.)
The design and art direction in Rio are truly something to behold – lush, extravagant backdrops and settings, including wide aerial shots that look like true-life photographs of Rio’s mountains, beaches, and iconic Jesus statue.
Eisenberg brings his trademark neurotic delivery to the voice of Blu, which is a perfect fit since Blu is unsure and skittish about much of what (and whom) he encounters during his journey. Hathaway is a good fit and enjoyable as the strong-willed and eventually sympathetic Jewel. And as much I was fearing over-the-top, grating performances from George Lopez and Tracy Morgan, they reeled it in just enough to make their characters (Rafael the toucan and Luiz and the bulldog) a lot of fun. In addition, Flight of the Concords’ Jemaine Clement provides one of the most memorable animated villains since Toy Story 3’s Lotso Huggin’ Bear as the sadistic cockatoo Nigel.
Music – specifically, Latin dance – plays a huge part in Rio, and rightfully so since the film takes place in Rio de Janeiro during Carnavale. Legendary musician/producer Sergio Mendes, along with Black Eyed Peas leader will.i.am, provide a rich soundtrack highlighted by the film’s signature track, “Hot Wings.” In addition, Rio’s music brings something back to animated features that hasn’t been heard since Disney’s early ‘90s heyday: signature songs by the characters in the film. The best of the bunch is Nigel’s wicked tune, “Pretty Bird."
Character development in Rio is a slow build, but it eventually gets there, along with much more laugh-out-loud comedy. Yes, there’s a pinch of pop culture references, but not too much as to spoil things or jeopardize the film’s freshness ten years from now.
With Rio, director Carlos Saldanha (and a small team of screenwriters) has tapped into something unique in both story and location. Yes, Pixar still has nothing to worry about (though rumor has it they canceled their film Newt because it was too similar in story). But with its gorgeous, vibrant, energetic vibe, Rio is well with the trip.
Rating:Rio is a lot of fun, with great songs, fun characters, and a visually amazing execution.
Will your FilmMother want to watch it?The trailers really didn’t sell Rio as anything special, but the film is much better than she may expect. Convince her to make it a movie for the whole family to watch; nobody will be disappointed.
shot to be in 3-D? Guess we'll never know...
* Director: Carlos Saldanha
* Screenwriters: Don Rhymer, Joshua Sternin, Jeffrey Ventimilia, Sam Harper
* Stars: Jesse Eisenberg, Anne Hathaway, Tracy Morgan, Leslie Mann, Rodrigo Santoro, George Lopez, Jake T. Austin, Carlos Ponce, Bernardo De Paula, Wanda Sykes, Jane Lynch, will.i.am
* MPAA Rating: G
Rent Rio from Netflix >>