Rio (Movie Review)

3 out of 4 stars

Animated movies seem to have reached a new peak of popularity since 2010, and 20th Century Fox’s ‘Rio’ is looks set to continue the trend. Although it doesn’t have the emotional depth and maturity of a Pixar or DreamWorks production, ‘Rio’ still manages to entertain with its witty humour, immersive visuals, and lively action scenes. For better or worse, ‘Rio’ is a typical family film which should satisfy its target audience.

‘Rio’ tells the story of Blue (Jesse Einsberg), a domesticated blue Spix’s Macaw who has spent his whole life in Minnesota as a pet to librarian Linda (Leslie Mann).  In fact, Blue is so pampered that he is unable even to fly, preferring instead to walk on his talons or be carried on his owner’s shoulder.

Suddenly though, Blue’s world turns upside down when Brazilian scientist Tulio (Rodrigo Santoro) arrives at his house and shares with him an astonishing truth:  he is the last male of his kind alive.  Facing extinction of his species, Blue is forced to accept Tulio’s ultimatum: travel with him and Linda to Rio de Janeiro, where the last female Macaw Jewel (Anne Hathaway) is being held, then mate with her to ensure the survival of his species.

However, this task proves to be anything but easy.  Socially inept and clumsy from years of household living, Blue initially is nothing short of repulsive to Jewel, who prides herself on being free from humans. Making matters worse, Blue and Jewel are both abducted by a gang of bird poachers, who use their tyrannical cockatoo Nigel (Jermaine Clement) as their watchdog over their imprisoned birds.  With the help of fellow captive birds Rafael (George Lopez), Pedro (Will.i.am.), and Nico (Jamie Foxx), the two hatch a daring escape plan to return their owners whilst unknowingly bringing them together.

Although enjoyable, ‘Rio’ does have its share of flaws, chief of which is its weak character development. Out of its massive cast of over fifteen animals, most are stereotypically one-dimensional, going through no dramatic growth whatsoever by the story’s end. This is particularly noticeable in the romance between Blue and Jewel, one of the narrative’s most important elements.  Even the subplot that sees Blue’s human owner Linda and fellow scientist Tulio wandering Rio looking for the pair feels aimless and unnecessary,  adding little to the core story of Blue’s acceptance of his culture.

If these subplots had been removed, perhaps the filmmakers could have concentrated on adding more serious subtexts to the potentially rich plotline.  In fact, animated masterpieces like ‘How To Train Your Dragon’ and ‘Toy Story 3’ were almost complete allegories at their core, the former a touching ode to racial unity and harmony, the latter a bittersweet reflection on the passing nature of childhood. However, ‘Rio’ fails to develop even the simple and clichéd moral of being yourself, preferring to devote its running time to flashy action and slapstick humour instead.

Additionally, ‘Rio’ as a story lacks the heartfelt emotional sincerity needed to lift it beyond mindless popcorn entertainment.  Many of the film’s dramatic scenes are deliberately executed in an over-the-top and goofy fashion, from Blue’s final conquest of his fear of flying to his rescue of Jewel from certain death when the pair are thrown out of the back of an airplane.  Although some of these scenes work from a comedic perspective, the film’s over-use of camp ultimately has a negative effect on its overall emotional pull.

Despite its lack of substance, ‘Rio’ is nevertheless consistently entertaining from beginning to end. In fact, as light entertainment, the film works quite adequately for younger and less demanding audiences. One of the major strengths of the film is its unusually sharp and incisive sense of humour, which in the end becomes the film’s greatest asset. Featuring a wide range of jokes ranging from physical gags to social satire on man’s domestication of animals and even cleverly disguised sexual innuendo, ‘Rio’ never ceases to elicit its share of chuckles and belly laughs throughout its run time.

Additionally, ‘Rio’ is also worth watching for its elaborate action set pieces, many of which equal any of their live-action counterparts. Of particular note is a scene where Blue and Jewel are forced to run across the roofs of the city’s favela on foot while being pursued by a gang of poachers, which bears more than a passing resemblance to ‘Casino Royale’ and ‘The Bourne Ultimatum’  in its intensity and style.  Similarly, the final showdown in the Mardi Gras festival and Blue’s flying lessons are also nothing short of astounding in their visual spectacle and energy.

Technically, the film is also a triumph in terms of its animation and voice work.  Featuring one of the most distinct visual settings in recent memory, ‘Rio’ brings its titular city life in immense detail, with both the bustling street corners of the city and the lush jungles surrounding it teeming with life and activity.  In fact, the magnificent wide aerial shots of the city alone are worth the price of admission.  The film’s vocal cast also gives energetic performances, providing humour and wit if not depth to their characters.  Of particular note is Jesse Einsberg’s delivery as Blue:  as the socially awkward Macaw, Einsberg brings sympathy and emotion to an underwritten part, providing most of the film’s limited dramatic effect.

Admittedly, ‘Rio’ will be viewed as a disappointment by those expecting a sweeping, melodramatic adventure in the vein of ‘Toy Story 3’ or ‘How to Train Your Dragon’.  However, viewers simply looking for a cheerful, colourful outing at the cinema with their children should enjoy 20th Century Fox’s latest animated endeavour.  It may not be a classic of its genre, but ‘Rio’ is nevertheless solid entertainment from start to finish.




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Jesse Einsberg as Blue and Anne Hathaway as Jewel in 'Rio'

‘Rio’ is currently available on DVD in Shenzhen.

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Damien is a talented, up-and-coming writer building his career in the media industry. His hobbies include playing guitar, listening to music, and watching films!

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