In Hollywood, animation has grown considerably in the last twenty years. With each entry in the genre pushing boundaries, technically as well as in terms of storytelling, it is difficult not to be critical of the ones that settle for less. Last year, we had Megamind, which played, in my opinion, like a poor man’s version of Despicable Me. I walked into Rio expecting a similar moviegoing experience, particularly because 20th Century Fox Animation hadn’t delivered anything remotely memorable apart from the Ice Age franchise. But I must admit, I was very pleasantly surprised. Although it will not win any awards or accolades, Rio is a wonderfully animated and quite an adorable film that has something for all ages.
The plot of Rio is expectantly quite routine. Think Madagascar done as a generic love story with a strong conservation theme. Blu (Jesse Eisenberg) is the last male Macaw of his kind. Caged and taken away from his natural habitat, he was found and raised by Linda (Leslie Mann) in Moose Lake, Minnesota. He can’t fly and is quite comfortable living in captivity. A visit from a bird specialist Tulio (Rodrigo Santaro) reveals that there is a female Macaw, Jewel (Anne Hathaway) held in captivity in Rio and that Blu could save his species. This brings them to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil where Blu must deal with vicious bird catchers, being lost in the Wild, saving the species and winning the affection of Jewel, all in the middle of the Rio Carnival, the biggest carnival in the world.
The first half of the film plays it safe and by the numbers. There are no surprises or twists worth talking about. The characters are introduced and you can see every twist and turn along the way well before it arrives. However, the love story has enough heart and the humour is spot on. The double entendres are a little too obvious in places but my god, they are funny! The second half of the film picks up quite well and the finale is absolutely entertaining. The original music by John Powell is very good overall and the film features some great foot-tapping tunes.
The quality of the animation is quite simply, outstanding. The detail with which Rio de Janeiro is brought to life is mesmerising to behold. It reminds you of the recreation of Paris in Ratatouille. The scenes running to the favellas of Rio are particularly well done. However, the truly stunning moment in the film is in the penultimate portions where the Rio Carnival is animated in all its glory. Those portions are awe-inspiring and pretty spectacular. The quality of the 3D is superior as it does not dull the colour pallette and therefore, the moviegoing experience.
The film also benefits from an outstanding voice cast. Jesse Eisenberg and Anne Hathaway work exceedingly well as a pair. As expected, she is effortlessly charming; he is awkwardly so. Together, they give the protagonists depth and flair in equal measure. The other outstanding contributions are from will.i.am and Jamie Foxx as Pedro and Nico, the two birds accompanying Blu and Jewel after they are on the run from bird catchers. They are funny, musical and play like more melodious versions of Eddie Murphy in Shrek and Mulan. Jemaine Clement is hilarious as Nigel, the aging bird who is helping the crooks.
Overall, there is little in Rio that you haven’t seen before. However, it is saved by some wonderful animation, an exuberant spirit and just about enough heart to make you feel the love. It is a trifle, and nothing more. But this is exactly the kind of trifle you want to indulge in. So. Indulge away.