Review: Rio Should Be Held Blameless

It would be pretty easy to say we should blame it on Rio. Easy, sure, but it wouldn't make any sense. Because there's nothing to blame Rio for, it's perfect for the young persons who will take it in this weekend, and relatively decent for the rest of us as well. There are a few laughs, a couple of catchy songs, and animated scenery in abundance. So don't blame it on Rio. There's no Michael Caine, no Demi Moore, and Rio doesn't deserve that sort of nonsense.

Rio is the story of Blu, the last of the male Blue Macaws. He's smuggled to Minnesota by illicit exotic pet dealers, but a fortunate accident leaves him in the possession of Linda (voiced by Leslie Mann), a little girl who finds him in a box on the street. You've gotta admit, that's a pretty innovative way to get a jungle bird into the hands of an innocent party. Blu and Linda grow up together in a doting and mutually beneficial relationship, until one day they are visited by a representative from Brazil who is in possession of the last female Blue Macaw. As Brazil wants to keep the Macaw population vibrant, Linda and Blu are coerced into traveling to Rio de Janeiro. Blu is introduced to the female Macaw, named Jewel, but they don't really hit it off. Believe it or not, it isn't the language barrier that gets them, as she speaks flawless English (and sounds a lot like Anne Hathaway). Nope, it's Blu's lack of flying ability and his willingness to be a pet that rubs Jewel the wrong way. That's an issue they'll have to overcome, eh?

The story proceeds along the streets of Rio during Carnivale. There's a light bird-napping and some lessons are learned. It all ends relatively well, in the grand tradition of animated films targeted at younger demographics.

If we were judging recent three-word children's animated titles I'd opine I prefer the pithiness of Hop slightly more, but that's not a reason to deride Rio. What is a reason? My first bone of contention would be the supporting characters. They're all funnier than all four of the main characters, and that's an issue for the film. Jamie Foxx, Tracy Morgan, Wanda Sykes, and Jemaine Clement deliver the majority of the levity, but they are underutilized. Unfortunately, the rest of the movie is comprised of "dramatic" moments that aren't all that well executed, and the tension is near non-existent.

The other quasi-jarring aspect comes from the use of Jesse Eisenberg's voice as Blu. Prior to The Social Network, his performance likely would have worked, but as it stands it sounds like Mark Zuckerberg has become a talking bird. This is disconcerting.

Still, the whole affair comes in under 100 minutes, and it could have been way worse (Hi Alvin and the Chipmunks!). The formula for children's films is largely established, and Rio does well to keep things moving. All things considered, animated Rio de Janiero looks pretty lively, the songs are toe-tapping if forgettable, and Tracy Morgan does lend his voice to some of the latter stages of the film. Oh, and the 3-D! I almost forgot, the 3-D is fairly decent and honestly rendered throughout, another small victory.

Rio will be a nice matinee for you and the kids, or a nice DVD if you're not fully convinced the children can sit still this long. Either way, a little respite to look forward to, a brief escape to the kinder parts of the jungle.

Grade: C+