Pixar has spoiled me. Because this studio continually raises its own bar I have come to associate digitally animated films with well written characters, poignant and heartfelt dialogue and layered and nuanced story telling. I should not. Rio does not measure up to Up or Toy Story 3. It is not a family movie that appeals to children and adults on different levels. It is a movie for children and as such it’s not bad.
Watching this movie in the theatre was fairly enjoyable. The bright colors, good 3D effects, caramel popcorn and people passing out Rio cookies (what a clever advertising campaign that just fell into their laps) all combined to ensure a pleasant movie going experience.
But are “pleasant” and “not bad” really the adjectives to which movie makers should aspire? For a movie ostensibly about learning to fly, Rio stays surprisingly close to the ground. Everything about it is familiar, predictable and recycled and therefore forgettable. While this might be a selling point for a lot of moviegoers, I find safe and cute somewhat offensive. Bad movies are forgivable when they try to achieve something and fail. What can be said about a mediocre movie that aims to be mediocre? The people at Blue Sky Studios (who gave us the equally amusing and unoriginal Ice Age series) were not trying to tell a story or add something new into the world. All they wanted to make was a movie kids would go to once. There is about 1 movie made for children every other month and so bright and bouncy and fun are the only criteria needed to succeed at the box office. Parents have to take their children to Rio because there are no alternatives, but why should they pay for a movie they will not enjoy. It’s this lazy attitude which rubs me the wrong way, almost as if they are saying
“We have the formula; we know it’ll get people in the seats, why should we make an effort to do better?”
Seen it before (and usually done better)
Although it bored me, Rio cannot be classified as boring because a lot is going on. Nothing meaningful, but a lot nonetheless. Blue McCaw Blu is torn from his tropical home and finds a new one with sweet bookish Linda. Until eccentric ornithologist Tulio informs them that Blu is the last male of his species and convinces them to come to Rio de Janeiro to mate with the last female of his species- Jewel. Jewel on the other hand is more interested in flying free than mating. Then both birds are kidnapped and must make it through greedy smugglers, a cannibalistic cockatoo, a troop of thieving monkeys, Carnival, and host of slapstick and wisecracking sidekicks. Predictability is a stable: Linda is mousy at the beginning so of course she breaks out of her shell, Blu cannot fly so of course he can by the end, Blu and Jewel don’t get along so of course they fall in love. If any of these characters journeys were honestly and organically explored then the movie would have been worthwhile, but Rio was just a series of subplots chained together (like the leads).
Another money-making technique employed by Blue Sky was casting a number of celebrity voice talents. Jesse Eisinberg plays Blu as a standard adorkable misfit, which is a role he has perfected and personifies. This is disappointing now that we know he is capable of going beyond this as seen in his brilliant performance in The Social Network which was subtle, shaded and powerful. Anne Hathaway as Jewel tries too hard and one is reminded of the Oscars where she did the same. Leslie Mann is cute but her character Linda is disposable. The singing sidekicks Nico and Pedro are voiced somewhat annoyingly by Jamie Fox and Will I Am. Wanda Sykes and Jane Lynch have small cameos as geese. George Lopez is henpecked toucan Rafael and Tracy Morgan voices drooling dog Luiz.
There is nothing to actively dislike in Rio, but there is nothing to love either.
On the up side it really made me want to visit Rio de Jeneiro.