As you might expect from an animated movie about blue macaw parrots set in Rio de Janeiro during Carnival, this is a very colourful movie. The opening musical sequence features all kinds of jungle birds in a fun, catchy, follies-style production number, but unfortunately, the rest of the movie is kind of underwhelming by comparison. Jesse Eisenberg (remember him as Mark Zuckerberg in Facebook-movie The Social Network) lends his nebbishy rapid-fire voice to the character of Blu, a blue macaw who was taken from the jungle as a baby and raised in suburban Minnesota. One day a Brazillian ornithologist and animal-rescuer named Tulio arrives to whisk Blu and his owner Linda to Rio to meet (and mate with) Jewel (voiced by Anne Hathaway), the only other blue macaw left in the world. (Talk about performance anxiety!) As you might expect, even in Brazil, the rare birds are stolen and what ensues is the escape attempt by Blu, Jewel and their motley crew of bird (and dog) allies.
The plot is far from original, and even the formula (lots of colourful, animal sidekicks who help the main characters on a little quest) seems pretty typical of today’s animated movies. Nevertheless, Rio has some pretty good production values. The animation is well done: from the aerial camera-work over the beaches and slums of Rio, down to the very realistic-looking feathers (which are as essential to this movie as hair was to Disney’s Tangled). Everything looks good. Even the human characters look alright, though they still sport the exaggeratedly large heads and stylized features of cartoons (similar to the characters from Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, which is ironically not one of director Carlos Saldahna’s other movies).
The supporting cast stand out on their own. It didn’t really feel like much of a relationship had time to form between Blu, Jewel, and the others. Oscar-winner Jamie Foxx, and Black-Eyed Pea will.i.am play a pair of cool, hip-hoppy birds who help Blu find his way around the city (though most of the time they seem to be riffing off their own vibe). Tracy Morgan (who I never liked, not even on 30 Rock) plays a bull dog named Luiz, whose main theme seems to be the danger of ever-present drool coming off his jowls. I enjoyed both George Lopez as a hen-pecked daddy toucan who seizes the opportunity to help Blu as a way to take a break from his family duties; and Jemaine Clement (from Flight of the Conchords) who lends his unique voice to the villainous cockatoo, Nigel. Nigel/Clement even gets to do a musical number in the Conchords’ smooth talky-singing style.
All in all, Rio is OK fun, but it’s not very fresh or unique. Take Madagascar, trade one continent for another, trade a few furs for feathers, and you’re pretty much there. It’s unfortunate that even having an Angry Birds tie-in game (yes, even cross-promotion with Apple’s funnest mobile devices) and featuring some of the rarest birds on earth (so they claim) cannot prevent this movie from being kind of ordinary. (3.5 out of 5)