Rio was one of those movies I was absolutely unenthused about ever seeing. The trailers looked like they were aiming for kids and no one else. It was from the director of Ice Age, which I loved the first one but absolutely despised the second one. It had the kind of star-studded cast that got advertised in a way that screams, “Look at all these people we got! Now give us money!” Yet having it at a second-run movie theater that serves dinner can change my opinion, and I was very pleasantly surprised.
Blu (Jesse Eisenberg) is a blue macaw who was taken from Rio at birth, and smuggled to Minnesota, where he was found by Linda (Leslie Mann). And from there, he’s perfectly adjusted to his life…until Tulio (Rodrigo Santoro) shows up and reveals that he’s the last male blue macaw, and has to return to Rio and mate with Jewel (Anne Hathaway). From there, the two birds get kidnapped by smugglers instead, and have to find their way through Rio chained to each other. Which is a problem when Blu can’t fly. Along the way, they meet a cast of other big name celebrities voicing characters.
I still have to be sarcastic about this, but there’s honestly a lot of good voice work going around. Jesse Eisenberg brings the same nerdy charm he always has to his roles. Blu is hopelessly unromantic towards Jewel, has no idea how to survive in Rio, and Eisenberg’s voice works well for that. Some of the other silly characters met along the way are also well done. George Lopez plays a toucan who travels with the macaws for most of the journey, and while I’m neutral to him in general, I think he played the part pretty well. Even Tracy Morgan as a slobbering bulldog has a lot of the possibly-craziness that makes his 30 Rock character enjoyable. So I still have to point out some of the not-so-good actors. Anne Hathaway and Leslie Mann are just pretty unremarkable in their roles. They’re there, but they don’t bring anything special to the characters. The worst has to be a pair of birds voiced by a barely-tolerable Jamie Foxx and an absolutely-intolerable Will.i.Am. They bring nothing but two borderline-racist characters to the movie, and don’t help to advance the story at all. It’s cringe-worthy to see any jokes they’re trying to make. Oh, but they also sing. I never knew before that birds had auto-tune built into them. The songs in general are just forgettable. The opening song, Real in Rio, is at least a good introduction to the movie. It has a lot of vibrant visuals and fun…I don’t know if choreography is exactly the word for a bunch of birds flying around, but it’s an energetic number that gets you into the Carnival-based theme of the movie. It’s the only song I could see myself wanting to see again. The villain song by a cockatoo named Nigel who’s working for the smugglers is pointless. Oh, and apparently Nigel is voiced by half of The Flight of the Conchords. I’m disappointed they didn’t get some bigger British actor to ham it up. Gary Oldman did a fantastic job with that in Kung Fu Panda 2 (which, as things are looking, is probably going to be the gold standard of animated movies this year), so it’s hard to think highly of this voice work.
The humor in this movie is really one of its strong points. It works on a level that hits the kids and the adults. There are some good action-comedy sequences, like the escape by Blu and Jewel that has them running and sliding through Rio slums. It’s an exciting sequence that still manages to get some good jokes in. It also makes sure to put visual gags in whenever possible. At one point, the heroes are fighting some evil monkeys, and one of them gets kicked in the crotch. This is not particularly notable, but then the monkey opens his mouth and jewels fall out. It added an extra bit to a gag rather than just saying “It’s a kids movie, better hit somebody in the balls”. There are also a few blink-and-you-miss-it gags that will at least mean that it can be viewed again. The visuals are probably the movie’s highest mark. They’re vibrant and colorful. The Carnival finale in particular is just superb. The birds also move in the right way. Blu’s patterns for walking without flying are down perfectly. I’m willing to believe that these birds have enough style to them to be accurate. I can’t say if they’re completely accurate, but hey, it looks good enough for me.
Overall, it was just a really fun movie. No, it wasn’t anything fantastic or special. But there was plenty of humor, some good voice acting, and it looked really good. The kids in the audience seemed to enjoy it, and the adults did, too. It really reminds me of one of those mid-90s movies where everybody was trying to beat Disney by loading up on talent and mediocre songs, but somehow, the movie still works. Well worth seeing.