Thin on story, but eye-popping in its use of colour and movement, the new film from Carlos Saldanha ( Ice Age) adds some welcome brilliance to the world of 3-D animation. The story of a cerulean blue macaw (voiced by Jesse Eisenberg) who goes from being the beloved pet of a Minnesota bookstore owner to the target of bird smugglers in the midst of the Rio de Janeiro carnival, is like immersing yourself in a rainbow.
The opening sequence, in which the baby macaw is captured by exotic pet poachers and then falls off the back of a trunk into a roadside snowbank in Minnesota, sets up the contrasting worlds between the intense primary colours of the south and muted palette of the north.
Rather than pine for his childhood, or his inability to fly, the macaw, named Blu, lives happily as half of an interspecies couple with his reclusive owner, Linda, for the next 15 years. He wakes her up by imitating her alarm clock. They brush their teeth together (okay, his beak) and he spends the day with her in her second-hand bookstore, ignoring the Canada geese who mock him from outside his window.
Life is blissful, until the unexpected (and unexplained) arrival of Tulio (Rodrigo Santoro) a klutzy Brazilian ornithologist who informs Linda that Blu is the last male of his species, and he wants them to come with him to Rio so the bird can mate and keep the breed alive. Initially reluctant, Linda finally agrees. Soon, she and Blu have relocated to Tulio's institute in Rio, but Blu's glamorous potential mate, named Jewel (Anne Hathaway), is less interested in billing and cooing than she is escaping back to the jungle.
Unbeknownst to Tulio, his colony of injured and endangered birds has been infiltrated by a double-crossing cockatoo named Nigel (played by New Zealand comedian Jermaine Clement of Flight of the Conchords.) The grey, droopy-eyed cockatoo - who looks like Sidney Greenstreet and sounds like Scar from The Lion King - is in cahoots with exotic pet poachers and helps them take Blu, Jewel and the other birds to a poacher's hut, before they'll be shipped abroad.
As Blu and Jewel are forced together by a chain around their feet, Tulio and Linda unite in trying to recover them. There's the usual surfeit of comic sidekick characters with Jamie Foxx as a canary, and the Black Eyed Peas' will.i.am as a cardinal, Tracy Morgan as a bumptious, drooling bulldog, and George Lopez as a hen-pecked toucan.
The generic story elements can't spoil the real achievement of Rio, which is a series of vividly choreographed set-pieces. There's a particularly gorgeous sequence where Blu and Jewel hang glide around the giant Christ the Redeemer statue overlooking Rio, which is some of the best use of 3-D perspective in a recent movie. Almost as good are the tumbling chase scenes through the alleys and geometrically cock-eyed buildings of the favelas.
Because this is Rio, there are also a number of musical and dance numbers (the score was overseen by Sergio Mendez). The wittiest number is the evil Nigel's song, Pretty Bird, welcoming the captured birds to their new prison, which parodies Angela Lansbury's Be Our Guest from Beauty and the Beast, with an added rap interlude ("I'm unwashed. I'm unrinseable. Like an abandoned school, I've got no principal"). The most dazzling is the number Hot Wings ( I Wanna Party), performed by Foxx and will.i.am as a Busby Berkeley-style production number. Finally, as the climactic sequence set against the carnival parade reminds us, in Rio, the display of rhythmic movement that involves preening, strutting and brilliant plumage isn't just for the birds.
- Directed by Carlos Saldanha
- Written by Don Rhymer, Joshua Sternin and Jeffrey Ventimilia and Sam Harper
- Starring the voices of Anne Hathaway, Jesse Eisenberg, Leslie Mann
- Classification: G