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"Rio" Fails To Completely Take Flight

by on April 21, 2011

Blue Macaw? More like a turkey, it sounds like.Did any of you see Rio this weekend?

Don’t answer.

You have.

You’ve probably seen it 20 times already, and that’s likely a lowball estimate. Though it is remarkably beautiful, this film hasn’t met a cliché it didn’t like.

Rio starts off well enough with a fantastic musical number in the jungle that surrounds the title city. It sort of sets the tone for the entire film but at the same time it doesn’t. For one thing, no other musical number in the picture is as memorable as it. For another, it won’t prepare you for what has to be one of the most awkward transitions I’ve ever seen for this sort of thing. But I’ll get to that later.

The number ends abruptly and we see the protagonist, Blu, being captured and taken to Minnesota, where he’s discovered and taken in by a young girl named Linda. The two form a close bond and become basically inseparable. It then flashes forward—no time wasted on overly long sappy montages—to the present, where Linda is the proprietor of Blue Macaw Books and is quite happy with how her life turned out, as is Blu. This is all pretty well-done, and in less than five minutes the film sets up the inseparability of these two characters, which makes the panic they feel when they’re torn apart later on all that more believable. But then we get to the next few minutes and that’s where that jarring transition comes in.

Suddenly birds are doing people things!

Yes, I know. The entire movie revolves around animals doing stuff that humans do. But for the first part of the movie it just seems so outside of the realm of possibility that when it happened it was very hard for me to take. Even the opening number didn’t really have birds doing stuff that was too far from things that birds do. But when geese start tossing snowballs and macaws begin to do math problems with pencil and paper and then build a makeshift runway complete with blinking lights, it’s enough to throw someone out of a movie like this one. And it takes awhile to re-adjust.

The plot is finally set in motion when a Brazilian ornithologist named Tulio pops up in small-town Minnesota and convinces Linda that Blu should come to Rio because he’s the last male and hope for his species. This is the point where it seems they just decided to stop writing a movie and just cut and paste from everything else they’ve seen before.

The movie shifts to Brazil, where there seems to be a major event happening in the next couple of days. That’s right. Carnivale. Because you can never set anything in Rio without it involving Carnivale. If you somehow manage to get away without mentioning Carnivale you have to at least reference “The Girl from Ipanema.” Which this film does! When talking about Carnivale!

There’s really no reason to go into great detail about what follows. As I said there isn’t a cliché this film meets that it doesn’t like. I happen to think it’s very brave—though I’m not going to call it admirable—for folks to not even try to do the smallest of twists on formula. If you happen to see this you might even think you wrote the movie.

Insert entirely inappropriate '30 Rock' joke here.The performers also seem to be on auto-pilot for the most part. Jesse Eisenberg and Anne Hathaway do fine jobs as the leads, Blu and Jewel, but it isn’t too different from stuff they’ve done before, a nerdy bird and the attainably unattainable, feisty but not too feisty object of his affection. That’s pretty much the same for every other major character. George Lopez’s Rafael isn’t too far from the other wise wisecrackers he seems to have an affinity for portraying. Tracy Morgan’s Luiz is simply Tracy Morgan as a bulldog. (I would love if they somehow worked this role into 30 Rock someday because it’s exactly the kind of thing the show makes fun of.) Jemaine Clement plays Nigel the cockatoo, yet another in his growing repertoire of charming slimeballs. Jamie Foxx and will.i.am weren’t even needed in this film. I have a hunch they were only there because they wanted more songs.

It seems the only folks who are given too much of anything to do outside of their usual are playing humans. The adorably awkward Linda doesn’t remind me too much of anything Leslie Mann has done before. And I’d be hard pressed to say that the overenthusiastic and easily flustered Tulio is even remotely like any of Rodrigo Santoro’s previous English-speaking roles.

In fact if the film would’ve just focused on these two it still would’ve been incredibly clichéd and probably a bit bland, but it would’ve been something all but unseen in American cinema: an animated film about two adults who aren’t anthropomorphic animals, superpowered or awesome butt-kickers just trying to relate and connect with each other. But that doesn’t sell so we got this bird movie.

The music is serviceable. John Powell doesn’t impress like he did with last year’s How To Train Your Dragon, (and to be honest it sounds a bit like he borrowed heavily from it) but it’s certainly not objectionable. As I said before there’s nothing as catchy or memorable as the opening number, though the closing one comes really close. Jemaine Clement shows off his comedy rock chops with a rather funny villain tune by Nigel. There’s only one dud of a song here: will.i.am somehow managed to produce something that’s even emptier than a Black Eyed Peas song with none of the infectiousness that’s kept that group popular. It’s almost as if he just strung together words he thought described the film and put them to the blandest hip hop beat that tried to pass for a samba-infused groove.

And I'll throw in a set of steak knives and a bamboo steamer for free, too.There are some great things about this film. The character designs are wonderful and the animation is gorgeous. These are some of the most expressive CGI characters I’ve ever seen. The movie really makes Rio come alive. If you can see this on the big screen and not feel the urge to book the next ticket to Brazil you’re a stronger person than me. It doesn’t even try to sugar coat the city either. When the film shows the place it shows all of it, warts and all. There are times it feels like it will become an animated City of God. But that still never detracts from the sheer beauty of the location. It has to be the best tourism advertisement the place never paid for.

The 3D is impressive as well, some of the best I’ve seen for any film, animated or not. It was a shame that they didn’t try to fully take advantage of it like other movies from last year did.

There is one cliché that the movie, avoided and to tell the truth I was rather annoyed by it. There was no use of the song “Brazil.” Not even a single reference to it. What gives?

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