(by Dustin Putman
"Rio" is akin to "Ice Age" with birds, deriving from the same production companies (20th Century Fox Animation and Blue Sky Studios) and director (Carlos Saldanha) as that completely innocuous, decidedly inconsequential series of kid pics. It's nothing if not colorful (though less so, it must be said, via the pointless, slightly darkened 3D version being released theatrically), but bright, shiny surfaces can only take a movie so far when there isn't a memorable script or worthwhile characters to back it up. With the exception of a pro-conservation theme running throughout, "Rio" doesn't have much to say. It's not emotionally enduring like 2010's "Toy Story 3," it's a far cry from the classic animated musical heights of 2010's "Tangled," and it's not as clever or inventive as 2011's "Rango." Heck, it doesn't even have the sweetness of 2010's "Despicable Me." Unlike most modern films of this ilk, adults will not be as taken with it as small children—it's not all that funny overall, and older-skewing humor is in short supply here—instead merely tolerating it for the length of its passable 95-minute running time. Article continues below
Ever since he was birdnapped from his native home of Rio de Janeiro and adopted by Minnesota resident Linda (voiced by Leslie Mann), Blu (Jesse Eisenberg) and his human owner have happily grown up together as tight-knit best friends. When Brazilian ornithologist Tulio (Rodrigo Santoro) shows up with news that Blu is one of only two known blue macaws in existence, he convinces Linda to travel to Rio in the hopes that Blu will mate with last remaining female Jewel (Anne Hathaway) and save their species from dying out. Blu and Jewel don't exactly click at first, but when they escape from poachers while chained together, they have no choice but to work as a unit if they hope to get free and make it back to Linda. There's just one other obstacle in their way: as a domesticated parrot, Blu never learned how to fly.
With a setting as exotic and one-of-a-kind as Rio de Janeiro, "Rio" misses its opportunity to also act as a learning experience for audiences not familiar with the foreign location. Instead, director Carlos Saldanha and screenwriter Don Rhymer (2007's "Surf's Up") treat it as just a pretty beach resort with a statue on the hill and a big party called Carnival that is thrown every year. The early scenes between Blu and Linda are the best, their close friendship an instantly warm and inviting one. When they are torn apart and the story diverges down two semi-romantic paths, one involving Blu and Jewel, and the other with Linda and Tulio as they try to find their missing birds, the picture has trouble inventing much of interest for either couple to do. Save for a tingly bit of excitement when Blu and Jewel hitch a ride off a cliff on the top of a hand glider, the action is largely forgettable, the interplay between Blu and Jewel is commonplace and without spark, comic relief from rag-tag birds Nico (Jamie Foxx) and Pedro (will.i.am) is forced, and the villain of the piece, star-cockatoo-gone-bad Nigel (Jemaine Clement), isn't given enough to do to come into his own as a threatening presence.
The premise hinges on its two avian protagonists mating, which is a weird topic to base a children's movie around, and the G-rating doesn't take into account a number of surprisingly suggestive throwaway moments. One scene where Jewel gives a choking Blu the Heimlich maneuver and the two are mistaken for consummating their relationship is amusing in its sheer gall, but inappropriate all the same. An overweight male worker at the conservation center who secretly disrobes into a gold speedo and tank top to dance around is also a bit awkward. Voicing Blu and Jewel, Jesse Eisenberg (2010's "The Social Network") and Anne Hathaway (2010's "Love and Other Drugs") should be a lot better than they are; they are two of Hollywood's most acclaimed young actors but their roles are standard and uninspired. Indeed, they might as well be starring in a low-rent romantic comedy that their hearts aren't in.
Lionel Richie notwithstanding, "Rio" is populated music-wise with wall-to-wall samba—and not the good kind. When one character remarks, "I hate samba; it all sounds the same," the viewer may have the urge to nod in agreement based on the evidence in this film. With asinine lyrics barely one step above Rebecca Black's now-infamous "Friday," the act of watching computer-animated creatures prance around and sing to it is, at times, too much to handle. As a whole, "Rio" is just resoundingly okay. The plot is okay. The characters are unoriginal, but okay. The lush, lovely setting should have been better-used, and is just okay. The climax set at Carnival neglects the chance to add some historical context to what looks like nothing more than an excuse to throw a glitzy parade and wear costumes, but is okay all the same. At least "Rio" is aesthetically attractive. Freed from the shackles of the overpriced, unnecessary 3D, it should really impress when it hits high-definition Blu-Ray. Too bad the rest of the film doesn't match the visuals.