Friday, April 29, 2011

Quick Look: RIO

Rio is a solid B-level CG animation effort from Blue Sky, best known for its Ice Age from all the way back in 2002 and which was, for my money, its only satisfying feature. (Even those Ice Age sequels were mostly mediocre). But now with Rio, a musical, warm-hearted animated comedy, the company has finally bested its best-known feature. It only took them a decade of lesser efforts. (Robots, anyone?) This film is cute, colorful, toothless fun. It’s safe, but not without its charms. It’s about the last two blue macaws on Earth, one a neurotic flightless house pet from Minnesota (voiced by Jesse Eisenberg) and the other a super-confident jungle bird from Brazil (voiced by Anne Hathaway). A scientist (Rodrigo Santoro) and a Minnesotan (Leslie Mann) agree to mate their birds and meet in Rio de Janeiro to do so. Luckily, this isn’t simply a story driven by the need for two birds to mate. That’s a bit on the creepy side for a decidedly kid-centric feature. Instead, the G-rated thrust of it all is a chase with an impressive sense of place, courtesy of director Carlos Saldanha, who has Rio as a hometown. Bird smugglers steal the birds and its up to the scientist and the American tourist to get them back. The birds, for their part, escape the smugglers (especially a nasty cockatoo with the voice of Jemaine Clement) and try to get help from a toucan (George Lopez), two hip-hop birds (Jamie Foxx and will.i.am), and a very slobbery bulldog (Tracy Morgan). The various characters race through the streets of Rio and get into all kinds of vibrant, tuneful trouble. The film never feels wholly original – it feels at times like its been cobbled together from good ideas that have been used in countless other animated films – but its never dull. It has a nice sense of pacing and location and never wears out its welcome. Even the 3D is used to nice, if mostly unobtrusive, effect. I won’t deny that the movie put a smile on my face. I can’t say Rio is great, but it sure is swell.

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