Friday, April 15, 2011


The computer-animated kids’ movie Rio begins in the title city, where we see a baby parrot captured for the exotic bird trade. Somehow he ends up stranded in Minnesota, where he grows up (into the voice of Jesse Eisenberg) as the pet of Linda (Leslie Mann) a nice young woman who runs a bookstore.

She’s named him Blu, which he is, all over, & when a nice Brazilian ornithologist, Tulio (Rodrigo Santoro), shows up at the bookstore he proclaims Blu the last male of his species, the “blue macaw” (a check of Wikipedia reveals that there really are a couple of species of macaw with blue plumage that are critically endangered). He persuades Linda to bring Blu back to Rio to meet Jewel (Anne Hathaway), the last female blue macaw, in hopes that they’ll hit it off and propagate.

Linda & Blu make the trip, but Blu & Jewel once again fall into the clutches of bird smugglers. They manage to escape, chained together like Tony Curtis & Sidney Poitier in The Defiant Ones, & Blu’s humiliating secret comes out: He’s never learned to fly.

All this adventure takes place against the backdrop of, you guessed it, Carnival, & it involves all manner of supporting characters, from a villainous cockatoo (Jemaine Clement) to a sympathetic toucan (George Lopez) to a salivating bulldog (Tracy Morgan) to songbirds voiced by & Jamie Foxx. The plot is more complex than that of many CGI kidflicks, but at bottom, it’s still a blend of the genre’s usual motifs: A hero who must learn to believe in himself, a love story, separation from family, & so forth.

It’s an enjoyable blend, though. The brilliant, saturated colors both of the tropical setting & of the feathered characters are a treat for the eyes, there’s some flavorful music (Foxx sings especially well), & the voice cast is strong. Eisenberg’s nebbishy tones amusingly contrast his dazzling appearance, & they get across the key to his character: having grown up in a bookstore, he’s book-smart, but lacking in real-world experience.

I enjoyed Rio, even found it rather touching, but the opinions which carry more weight are those of the three excellent third-graders with whom I saw the film. They all sat still through the length of the film, & laughed out loud at it. Three finer reviews than that would be hard to come by.

Rio was preceded, by the way, by Scrat’s Continental Crack-Up, a short in which the hilarious saber-toothed squirrel from the Ice Age films, in his ongoing purgatorial quest for his beloved acorn, inadvertently breaks up the earth’s tectonic plates. It is indeed a crack-up.

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