Saturday, February 18, 2012

Rio Movie Review

Several studios have tried to horn in on Disney’s virtual monopoly on feature animation, usually by trying to do things that Disney does not do. DreamWorks has created more grown-up oriented fare in the Shrek series and the little remembered Antz while Blue Sky Studios, best known for its Ice Age series, has tried to build its reputation around lovable animal characters. With Rio they’ve tried to branch out a little bit by including several prominent human characters in the story and by giving the film a rollicking musical score by John Powell (who also provided the wonderful score for How to Train Your Dragon) and some big musical numbers featuring singing characters and animated dance sequences.

Jesse Eisenberg voices Blu, a blue macaw captured in Brazil as just a wee chick and later adopted by a little girl in Minnesota. With the voice Blu has been given, you’d have to guess that he’s a nerdy bird, Eisenberg being typecast even in animation. That little girl grows up to have Leslie Mann’s voice. Soon they are found by a Brazilian ornithologist, Tulio (Rodrigo Santoro), who informs her that Blu is the last known male of the species and he must be brought to Brazil to mate with the only remaining female. The more astute adults in the audience might wonder how Tulio happened upon this small Minnesota town, but never mind, because soon they’re landing in beautiful Rio de Janeiro. And wouldn’t you know it, they’ve arrived just in time for Carnivale, providing an excuse to director Carlos Saldanha to display lots of crazy animated antics among the locals.

Then Blu meets his mate, Jewel (voiced by the dulcet tones of Anne Hathaway). Her main interest is escaping from her cell, but a series of misadventures gets them both captured by a gang of thugs looking to make a buck on the rare bird black market and Blu and Jewel end up chained together like the mismatched pair in The Defiant Ones. So it becomes an adventurous fish-out-of-water buddy movie throughout which you’re pretty sure the closing moments will feature some shot of Linda and Tulio side-by-side with Blu and Jewel happily ever after. I’m not saying that’s necessarily how it ends, but it was the image I had after about 20 minutes.

The voice characterizations are for the most part excellent. You might recognize Jamie Foxx and Will i am as a pair of street birds who help Blu in his adventures. Also there’s Tracy Morgan as a slobbering bulldog and George Lopez as a family toucan whose quick to get away from his screaming kids and tyrannical wife to help Blu and Jewel get where they’re going.

Through it all, what actually held my attention more than anything including the palette of bright and vibrant colors were the songs. Written by a myriad of songwriters including Powell and Sergio Mendes, they are lively, energetic and containing lyrics that aid the story in terms of character development rather than just extending the plot musically. More than that, they are expertly performed by the voice actors themselves: Jamie Foxx provides a sultry ballad while Will i Am sings an upbeat samba hip hop tune.

I’d say this is a likely contender for a franchise set up in the future. If they get the same team back together and can impress with equally competent songwriting, I’ll look forward to it when the time comes.

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