A creature-feature for the little ones
“Rio” follows a long-established family-film formula as it follows a young animal making a journey of self-discovery. The film sets the action in Brazil, but fails to take advantage of the possibilities offered by the Amazon rain forest, electing instead to showcase the highlights (and lowlights) of Rio de Janeiro.
The action centers around Blu, a macaw parrot closely resembling the rare Lear Macaw.
Recalling the spike in sales of Dalmatians that accompanied “101 Dalmations,” and its sequels, I worried that while extolling the virtues of these intelligent creatures, the film might inadvertently encourage parrot ownership. Happily, my fears were unfounded since “Rio” informs potential bird owners that parrots are smuggled into this country by poachers who devalue human and animal life.
Its conservation message aside, “Rio” barely passes muster as an animated feature film, despite the “Ice Age” pedigree of its native Brazilian director, Carlos Saldanha, who conceived and co-wrote the story.
Rio is nearly devoid of adult humor, suffers from a surplus of peripheral characters and is diluted by too many subplots. The sole adult-oritented pleasure arises from an existential crisis experienced by Blu, a character marvelously voiced by Jesse Eisenberg of “The Social Network.”
The movie opens with a polychrome rendering of parrots soaring through the rain forest canopy, the display choreographed to toe-tapping Brazilian music. Men intrude upon this paradise to capture a blue macaw chick, then cage the hatchling and fly it to the United States where the parrot is trucked through the frigid Midwest before being found by Linda (voiced by Leslie Mann). She is a kindly young woman who gives Blu a happy home. We see Blu develop into a young adult through a montage of photographs, and he remains by Linda’s side as she opens her own bookstore.
From their perch on the street, a pair of persnickety geese (Wanda Sykes and Jane Lynch) ridicule Blu’s (twanged by Jesse Eisenberg) domesticated life. However, Blu’s special status is cemented when Tulio (Rodrigo Santoro), a Brazilian ornithologist, arrives to inform Linda that Blu is the last surviving male blue macaw. Linda reluctantly agrees to bring her bird to Rio de Janeiro to breed with Jewel, the last surviving female living in Tulio’s avian sanctuary.
A captured wild parrot, Jewel (Anne Hathaway) is single-mindedly devoted to regaining her freedom and thus, is immune to Blu’s awkward charms.
When the pair are stolen by smugglers, Blu’s knowledge of cage doors allows them to escape, but since he has never learned to fly, fleeing while his leg is chained to Jewel’s, presents a challenge. They are relentlessly pursued by the smugglers’ right-hand bird, a chewed-up cockatoo named Nigel, menacingly voiced by Jemaine Clement.
Blu and Jewel fall into a chaste romance while Linda and Tulio do the same. A homeless orphan boy attempts to help Linda locate her beloved Blu, and several animal cohorts (will.i.am and Jamie Foxx, George Lopez and Tracy Morgan) show up to aid the lovebirds in their effort to ditch the smugglers.
While Blu’s predicament may tug the heartstrings, this “G-rated” effort generates little tension from its colorful characters and only mild geographical interest from its photo-realistic backdrops. However, “Rio’s” musical soundtrack pulses with South American percussion that almost gives the film a heartbeat.