Much like the titular Brazilian city, Rio is a festive film, heavily favouring frivolity over anything more deep and meaningful. With computer-animated features no longer as exclusive as they once were – it feels like there’s one a week nowadays – Rio is hardly a rare breed, but it’s certainly a peppy and playful one.
The Social Network’s Jesse Eisenberg lends his geeky larynx to the flightless Blu, an exotic Blue Macaw who was netted as a baby, shipped from sunny Rio de Janerio to snowy Minnesota and domesticated by bookshop owner Linda (Leslie Mann; Funny People). The two become close companions, but when Brazilian bird scientist Túlio (Rodrigo Santoro; Che) reveals that Blu is the last male of his kind, they’re persuaded into travelling to Rio in an attempt to mate Blu with Jewel (Anne Hathaway; Love and Other Drugs), a feisty female Macaw. The two don’t exactly hit it off – Blu is dependent, while Jewel is independent – but their differences are put on hold when a nasty cockatoo named Nigel (Jemaine Clement; Dinner for Schmucks), working on behalf of a gang of poachers, breaks into their cage and steals them both. Despite being chained together, the two manage to escape their captor’s grasp, but are forced to take the journey home on foot since Blu has a fear of flying. Romance blossoms as the two bump into a number of feathered friends on the way, such as the mentoring Toucan (George Lopez; The Spy Next Door), the rapping Cardinal (Will.i.am; X-Men Origins: Wolverine) and the jazz-singing Canary (Jamie Foxx; Law Abiding Citizen).
The penguin who couldn’t sing (Happy Feet), the Viking who couldn’t fight (How to Train Your Dragon) and now the bird who can’t fly – as far as the story goes, Rio is fairly derivative stuff. Although screenwriter Don Rhymer (Surf’s Up) brushes upon a number of interesting subtexts — such as the evils of poaching and the issues with domesticating wild animals, both of which were previously dealt with in DreamWorks’ Madagascar – they tend to be explored on face value, or merely function as plot devices. Still, this is first and foremost a family film, boasting expressive animation from Blue Sky Studios – the team behind the hit-and-miss Ice Age franchise – as well as a breezy, action-packed adventure that is sure to captivate the little ones more than the intricate, adult-oriented Rango.
Without relying on intertextual references, Rio maintains an entertaining sense of slapstick humour and upbeat tempo throughout, aided by the occasional musical number in which the likes of Will.i.am of The Black Eyed Peas and Jemaine Clement of Flight of the Conchords perform in their distinctive styles. Playing to his offbeat comedic strengths, Clement is particularly standout as Nigel, the amusing avian antagonist who adores alliteration articulation. The remaining voice cast do well to energise their archetypal characters, except for Hathaway’s Jewel, a rote love interest whose presence in each scene is negligible.
Rio is what you’d call a safe bet, a vibrant animated effort that features cute, talking animals with big, emotive eyes and a feel-good, coming-of-age story about overcoming your fears and following your heart. Rio follows the recipe to a tee, blending all the right ingredients for an amusing family-friendly adventure, never once attempting to spice things up with something audiences haven’t sampled before.