Rio has stuck with me for the past week. I play it over and over, the words and music burrowing through my brain—just like that river twisting through a dusty land. Of course, I’m speaking of the 1982 Duran Duran song, not the new family-friendly animated movie about tropical birds that I blame for getting the Duran Duran song stuck in my head, but that’s not bad, either. Made by the director and producers of the Ice Age movies, Rio is a colorful, exuberant film that makes up for what it lacks in wit by quite literally shaking its tail feathers. Which is to say that while it may not be as funny or poignant as Toy Story, or as original and endearingly oddball as Rango, Rio knows how to put on a Carnival.
Blu (voiced by The Social Network’s Jesse Eisenberg, who achieves the considerable feat of making a bird of paradise sound nebbishy) is a rare Spix’s macaw living a quiet life of domestic bliss with his owner, Linda (Leslie Mann), a shy single woman who owns a book shop in her native Moose Lake, Minn. Having been captured as a baby and transported from his native rainforest to the cold northern U.S. (where a young Linda rescued him after he literally fell off the back of a truck), Blu has never learned to fly— or do anything else remotely birdlike. Instead, he drinks hot cocoa, nibbles on cookies and prefers his cage to the great outdoors, causing him to be mercilessly mocked by his avian neighbors.
Everything changes when Tulio (Rodrigo Santoro), a Brazilian scientist specializing in rare birds, arrives in Moose Lake and insists that Linda and Blu return with him to Rio, where Blu—the last male of his species, as it turns out—can mate with a female macaw. Before they know it, Blu and Linda are thrust into a whole new culture, and Blu is thrust into a pen with the beautiful, aggressive Jewel (Anne Hathaway), who’s more interested in escaping than mating (even when encouraged by a Lionel Richie slow jam). But the love birds don’t have time to do either, because they’re stolen by poachers while Linda and Tulio are out on their own romantic dinner.
The rest of the movie revolves around Blu and Jewel as they attempt to flee their captors and the fearsome cockatoo, Nigel (Jemaine Clement), who acts as their warden. They’re aided by various kooky sidekicks such as Nico and Pedro (Jamie Foxx and Will.i.am as a singing canary and rapping cardinal, respectively), Rafael (George Lopez, as a toucan with connections), and Luiz (Tracy Morgan, as a bulldog with overactive salivary glands). In the midst of the chase, we’re treated to song and dance interludes, which are cute but slight with one exception: Clement nearly steals the movie with a cheeky Flight of the Conchords-style rap (sample lyrics: “I poop on people but blame it on the seagulls … Like an abandoned school, I have no principle.”) The songs may not be Alan Menken memorable, and some of the lines seem awfully dated (“Baby got beak?” Really?), but the action sprints along merrily and the visuals are often captivating, as when Blu and Jewel swoop past the famous “Christ the Redeemer” statue, the whole city spread out beneath them, or during the film’s climax at Rio’s flamboyant Carnival parade.
Rio is presented in 3-D, which, given its sweeping vistas, you’d think would be stunning. But it doesn’t add much to the viewing experience save for a few cool shots and a sore spot on the bridge of your nose. I wish that more movies would think twice before eagerly leaping into a third dimension; if you’re funny and pretty—as Rio is—you don’t have to feel self-conscious about being flat. (That goes for you, too, ladies.)
Rio (G) ★★★☆☆