From the makers of Ice Age series comes Rio, an aggressive assault of color and sound, and fortunately that’s where the aggressiveness ends. Unlike the latest ‘kid movies’ The Tale of Despereaux, Chronicles of Narnia, Alice In Wonderland, Rango, and many others, Rio can boast no dark or borderline subversive storylines, no double entendres or inside jokes, no subliminal messages anywhere in sight, which is liberating. Rio has no agenda. It is pure escapist fun. The 90 minutes fly by, literally, feet want to stomp and hands itch for an occasional tap on the knee, eyes water, sometimes with joy, sometimes with sadness, or maybe it’s the neon lucidity of the colors. This is pure joy as we know it.
I watched Rio in 2D and in Russian (for those who are raising their eyebrows up to heavens, I live in Minsk, Belarus) so the voice work of the actors and the wit of the dialogue flew over my head, and I am impatient to revisit the English version when it’s available in my neck of the woods. But even without those crucial elements, the picture is instantly engaging, thanks to the well-paced action and the viral jungle beats, the breathtaking visuals of Rio de Janeiro and the lush rainforests dripping green, orange, purple, blue and red.
Blu (voiced by the omnipresent Jesse Eisenberg) is the last male of a Spix’s Macaw but mean bandits steal him from his Brazilian babyhood and bring him to frosty Minnesota (cleverly titled as ‘Not Rio’) anyway. Jewel (Anne Hathaway) is the last female of the same species. Need I continue?
The plot is a cliché. And it’s a good thing. Blu, who is literally a ‘little flightless bird’ (the joke from Ice Age 3), is a domesticated and clueless nerd who has to learn the hard way the difference between being academically advanced and creatively streetwise. Clichés of the best family animation are mixed with rom-com formulas. Since opposites attract, the spoilt rotten Blu and the self-assertive Jewel fall for each other, after having bickered and fought nature for a time sufficient enough to amuse the viewers, and when the romance finally burgeons, we gladly get a literal demonstration of how love makes us spread our wings and fly…
Of course there is a delicious villain Nigel (Jemaine Clement); a frustrated father of seventeen toucan Rafael (George Lopez), who has a love-hate relationship with his family; a saliva-dripping bulldog Luiz (Tracy Morgan), clumsy and charming; a homeless orphan Fernando (Jake T. Austin), the most sympathetic human character here; and the comedic duet Red Cardinal Pedro (will.i.am) and Yellow Canary Nico (Jamie Foxx) who talk, rap, and sing like the world is going to end any minute. (The plastic miniature replicas of the main characters are immediately available in the most notorious fast-food restaurant near you so if you don’t want to be blackmailed into purchasing eight merry paper bags at one visit, it’s best to stick with sushi).
There are lots of falls and shenanigans, Avatar-like flights and chases (one with a classic motorbike and one with a skateboard, which is refreshing). There is a romance between the boring humans, Blu’s spectacled owner Linda (Leslie Mann) and dorky ornithologist Tulio (Rodrigo Santoro), and there is a gorgeous carnival in the end. The eye-candy visuals will make everyone want to go to Rio. The charm and fun of the picture will make us revisit old time classics: I haven’t heard audiences laugh so heartily in a long time. The soundtrack, as juicy as the color-block fruit that’s casually lying around the streets of Rio or adorns the heads of the main characters, will have people on their feet.
Except for the clever line ‘It’s good to keep it spicy’ referring to Blu and Jewel being chained together, Rio is unabashedly child-friendly. Instead of separating the children’s giggles from the grown-up sniggers, this family animation makes the two groups laugh together, which is rare. For Carlos Saldanha this was a long-time dream project, and his tender yet passionate love letter to Rio de Janeiro, is a jewel. It’s perfect for a restless four-year-old or a jaded forty-year-old, fed up with earthquake and tsunami news, and not looking for the depth of Up or the post-modern multivocality of Toy Story 3.
Like a devotee of happy ends and good old family animation formulas, I was looking forward to see a bunch of blue fluffy Spix’s Macaw chicks flying around their happy new parents in the end. Whether I saw them or not, will remain a mystery, since such fun needn’t be spoilt and you will have to go and check for yourself. Take your kid with you. Or take out that kid inside.