RIO (U): On General Release Friday 8th April
With the massive success of the Ice Age series able to rival even the likes of Pixar and Disney at the box office, it’s a bit of a gamble for Blue Sky Studios (the animation division of 20th Century Fox) to venture off the beaten path with their new project. Thankfully, director Carlos Saldanha is up to the task as Rio is a fun, colourful gem of film, packed with some great characters and charming songs.
Captured while he was a hatching, rare Macaw Blu (Jesse Eisenberg) is shipped off to Minnesota as an exotic parrot for sale. Fortunately, his truck’s chance encounter with a speed bump grants him his freedom (much like Rango, released a few weeks ago) and he’s adopted and raised by Linda, a bookish schoolgirl. Growing up together, they become best friends and Blu eventually takes up residence in Linda’s book shop but he never learns to fly.
When a passing ornithologist spots Blu, he realises that he might be the only chance for his species’ survival and after some reluctance, Blu and Linda hop on a plane to Rio. He’s expected to mate with a feisty parrot called Jewel (Anne Hathaway) but while Blu is used to a life in captivity, Jewel’s only desire is to escape.
Their chance comes when smugglers attempt to get their hands on the pair. Escaping into the wild, Blu and Jewel must team up with tropical birds Pedro (Will i am) and Nico (Jamie Foxx) in order to evade their kidnappers and escape from the evil Sulphur-crested Parrot Nigel (Flight Of The Conchords’ Jemaine Clement) and his gang of nefarious monkeys.
It’s a predictable but serviceable plot which has all the expected tropes – geeky boy meets headstrong girl; an unlikely pairing must overcome their differences; the protagonist must face up to his fears, and in storytelling terms, there’s nothing here out of the ordinary. Rio however, does have a few things that elevates above the humdrum.
Firstly the animation is absolutely first class and Rio looks beautiful. On a technical level it’s almost faultless, a real feast for the eyes, featuring bright colours, a stupendous attention to detail and a good use of the 3D technology. 3D in cinema has so far been a contentious subject; some saying it adds nothing but a higher price tag to already prohibitively expensive tickets while others maintaining that it offers an unrivalled viewing experience. Rio would be just as impressive in 2D but its flight scenes are undeniably enhanced with the aid of some 3D glasses and not once does it attempt to poke the viewer in the eye.
It’s also got some clever casting. Jesse Eisenberg might not seem like a natural choice for an animated character but he plays social awkwardness better than anyone and importantly he lends real warmth to Blu; with his delivery, Rio is at times extremely funny. Special mention should also go to Jermaine Clement who not only adds a charm to villainous cockatoo Nigel but also steals the show with a Flight Of The Conchords-esque musical number.
Rio isn’t going to set the world on fire. It doesn’t have the stopping power of Tangled, How To Train Your Dragon or the daddy of them all Toy Story 3, but it is a fun, extravagant and colourful slice of family entertainment which won’t disappoint.