Review: ‘Rio’

Pretty birds. 20th Century Fox
Pretty birds. 20th Century Fox

1. "Rio," fitting its setting of Rio de Janeiro, is an unrelenting giddy splash of colors across the screen. Much has been made how 3-D dulls the brightness of moving images, but you could have fooled me: "Rio" made me feel like I dove into a pool of finger paints. Everything is sharp and vivid and happy: The reds are maximum red, the blues are maximum blue and the greys are in some maximum security prison far off screen. Director Carlos Saldanha grew up in Rio de Janeiro, and the whole film seems an explicit plea for the rest of the planet to come visit his hometown. It makes Rio look like the happiest, loopiest place in the world. Rio de Janeiro currently brings in the most tourist dollars of any city in South America. It should prepare itself for more. Get your visa now.

2. The mirthy splash of the visuals -- oooh ... more blue ... so pretty ... -- are more a distraction from the story than a complement to it, but that's fine: It'll hum along pleasingly anyway. Jesse Eisenberg is the voice of Blue, a domesticated parrot raised by a young Minnesota book store owner. (She does fist daps with Blue, which is impressive for an animal with claws.) One day, a Brazilian ornithologist visits her store and informs her that there are only two species of the blue macaw left: Blue, and a bird in Rio he'd like Blue to breed with. The story hits every plot point you'd expect it to hit from that point on, from Blue struggling to woo his "sassy" counterpart (voice by Anne Hathaway), to the evil poachers who want to sell the birds, to the two humans realizing they're in love themselves. "Rio" doesn't challenge any notions of what a bright kids' movie should be, and it doesn't need to.

3. Just as it wasn't surprising to learn that Eisenberg may play the lead in the next Woody Allen movie, it isn't surprising he strikes a similar, fun note as Blue that Allen did in "Antz." The movie doesn't absorb its lead voice's sensibility the way that film did, but, then again, Allen has about 55 years on Eisenberg. Give him time. Hathaway has a grand time too; Eisenberg is a considerably more giving partner than her Oscar co-host was. But the film is essentially stolen by "Flight of the Conchords'" Jemaine Clement as the evil cockatoo Nigel. Nigel's a former movie star bird -- just go along with it -- who has lost his looks and is out to destroy everything beautiful; he appears in dirty white, grubby feathers and basically causes a riot every time he comes on screen. Clement is a funny man, but he appears to have been born to do cartoon voiceovers (he was great as a minion in "Despicable Me" as well). If the Kiwi novelty folk business doesn't work out, he has found himself a fantastic fallback career.

4. The primary aesthetic difference between "Rio" and the "Ice Age" films -- which Saldanha also directed -- is that "Rio" has a lot more songs, and I'm afraid that's the film's major shortcoming: The songs kind of stink. They're sung mostly by a cardinal and a canary voiced, respectively, by and Jamie Foxx. If you are a fan of either of those human beings as musicians, I hope you'll forgive me, but I am not. And if their real-life songs were as lame as the ones in "Rio," they would have never been successful musicians in the first place. (It's possible that Jamie Foxx isn't actually a successful musician.) Your musical tastes may vary, but I get enough Black Eyed Peas ear-poison every time I turn on the television, thanks. The only song that works is Nigel's, of course. But the movie probably should have just cut them all out.

5. After all, Rio de Janeiro has a rhythm and beat all its own, without getting the Black Eyed Peas involved. This is said to have been Saldanha's dream project, and you can tell: He stuffs so much joy and life into every frame that he must have spent his entire childhood dreaming it up. The movie ends, as it must, at Carnaval, Rio's wild party of glorious excess, and it's up to the challenge: It might not be the most narratively inventive conclusion you'll see, but it sure is pretty to look at it. This isn't revolutionary animation, but it's warm, sincere and huge-hearted. I was dazzled by all the colors; your kids are gonna go nuts for them.