Movie Review: Rio
By Matthew Huntley
April 25, 2011
If I was allowed only one phrase to review Rio, I would use “generically entertaining.” The movie is bright, jolly and funny, but then, what computer animated family movies aren’t these days? Watching Rio, I was engaged and in good spirits, and if I wasn’t laughing, I was smiling. But it isn’t terribly difficult to laugh and smile at talking cartoon animals that sing, dance and possess human sensibilities. If I was a kid, I’d think the world of this movie, but as an adult, despite it being warm and happy all over, I wish it had more of an attitude and imagination. There’s something about it that’s just too, well, generic.
Don’t get me wrong. I liked this movie and there’s nothing bad about it, per se. It’s cute and has ample energy. But I can’t shrug off the theory it was manufactured by a studio that had a checklist on hand to guarantee it became a hit. Some of the bullet points on the list might include: open movie with a dance or musical number (hey, it worked for Disney); show the hero as a baby so the audience immediately falls in love with him; give the hero a reasonable flaw he must overcome by the end of the picture; surround him with other colorful, wise-cracking characters and a love interest who help guide him through the plot; keep the action and violence tame enough so as not to offend anyone; allow all the characters to find love and happiness, except of course the villains.
A formula like this is almost inherently entertaining and feel-goody, more so for kids than adults, but it is still a formula, and for some reason, I can’t let that go, not this time. It may sound like I’m being too hard on the movie, but when something as delightful and inventive as Rango comes along, it’s easy to see why my standards are higher.
The movie’s hero is Blu (voiced by Jesse Eisenberg), one of the last two blue macaws on the planet. Born in a forest of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Blu never learned how to fly. He tried, but just as he was spreading his wings he and his fellow birds were captured and shipped off to America. Eventually, Blu winds up in the loving hands of Linda (Leslie Mann). They become best friends and she raises him for 15 years in Minnesota. Blu grows accustomed to a pampered lifestyle of playing, sleeping, reading the paper and drinking hot chocolate with six marshmallows. He talks to other animals, but to the humans he’s just making typical bird noises.
One day, while walking by Linda’s bookstore, Tulio (Rodrigo Santoro), a Brazilian doctor of ornithology (the study of birds), spots Blu and asks Linda to bring him to Rio so he can mate with Jewel (Anne Hathaway), the planet’s other blue macaw. He convinces her by saying it’s all in the name of saving the species.
Blu and Linda fly down, but of course, adventure and mayhem ensue. Blu and Jewel are kidnapped, er, bird-napped, by a team of bumbling thieves who want to sell them off for a profit. The thieves are aided by a tough white bird named Nigel (Jemaine Clement), who’s so threatening he even makes monkeys cower. But Blu and Jewel have other birds in their corner, like the smooth-talking Nico (Jamie Foxx) and Pedro (will.i.am), the experienced Rafael (George Lopez), and a slobbering dog named Luiz (Tracie Morgan). That was probably another item on the checklist: cast movie with as many celebrity voices as possible. Kids won’t know who they are but big names can be advertised on the poster.
Rio is more or less what you expect, and for most families, that’ll be enough. It’s charming, sweet and has a feast of dazzling action sequences that keep the momentum going. But for me, it all felt too common and safe. Rango, on the other hand, had more attitude and wit and took greater chances with its adult-oriented humor, yet not so much that it went over kids’ heads. And nothing against the animators, but Rio looks rather ordinary for computer animation, at least for a big budget Hollywood production. In a time when computer animated movies are a dime a dozen, Rango was able to stand out and had a richness and detail that was fresh and mesmerizing. By comparison, Rio looks more or less average. Still, with its amusing characters and family-friendly nature, people will still be able to enjoy it, and I did, too, just not enough to fully recommend it. Sorry, but I think Rango spoiled me a little and set a new precedence for computer animation.