A tropical flight of fancy
By Ann Hornaday
Friday, April 15, 2011
With spring taking its own sweet time getting here, the music, color and sheer 3-D joie de vivre of “Rio” couldn’t be more welcome. From the very first production number, which begins in a silent Brazilian jungle and reaches an ecstatic crescendo of dancing parrots, toucans and flamingos, this is a movie that imbues even the hoariest quest-peril-life lesson tropes of family animated films and imbues them with new life and rhythm.
At the center of “Rio’s” swirling action perches Blu, a rare blue macaw who in the film’s early scenes is abducted from the rain forest by exotic bird merchants, only to end up a cozily pampered pet in Moose Lake, Minn. Voiced by the congenitally reticent Jesse Eisenberg, Blu is perfectly happy to play, snuggle and sip cocoa with his owner, Linda (Leslie Mann). But when an ornithologist arrives announcing that only one other macaw exists — and it’s a female of the species residing in Rio de Janeiro — Blu must confront leaving his comfort zone in order to save the species.
Soon after arriving in Rio, however, Blu comes to feel he never should have left Moose Lake. His arranged girlfriend, Jewel (Anne Hathaway) turns out to be an intimidating, sky-wise free spirit who’s determined to leave their love nest (actually a biology lab) as soon as possible. When Blu and Jewel are bird-napped by a gang of smugglers, they become unlikely allies in Jewel’s mission to be free and Blu’s mission to get back to Linda and the modest joys of Moose Lake.
Hathaway and Eisenberg generate nifty chemistry as the time-honored mismatched pair, with her tart delivering playing off his distinctive tremulous stammer. Produced by the team responsible for "Ice Age,” the far more colorful “Rio” bursts with the native beauty of Brazil, from the taut tushies on Ipanema to the familiar sights of Corcovado and Rio’s cramped favelas. Composers John Powell and the great Sergio Mendes take their cues from samba and Antonio Carlos Jobim to create a musical backdrop every bit as evocative as the dazzling visuals, which exploit the flora, fauna and distinctively built environment for all their jewel-toned riches. (The film culminates with an epic chase through Carnivale, depicted with all its feathers-and-lame excesses intact.)
Jamie Foxx, Will.I.Am and George Lopez provide voices for the inevitable bevy of creatures who come to Blu and Jewel’s aid — and help them fend off a gang of larcenous monkeys and the smugglers’ equally evil-minded cockatoo. But it’s Tracy Morgan, arriving late on the scene as a slobbery bulldog who finds his inner diva on a Carnivale float, who qualifies as “Rio’s” most memorable scene stealer.
Although told mostly with broad strokes, “Rio” doesn’t stint on the details, like the slight sunburn Linda acquires after a day looking for her beloved avian companion. With its bright palette and incandescent splashes of light, “Rio” recalls last year’s “Tangled” as a chance simply to luxuriate in rich visual pleasures. And, in case school spring breaks call for a much-needed diversion, it’s an easy yes. Spring may be slow in coming, but “Rio” arrives like a winged seasonal harbinger itself, sending viewers aloft on an exuberant, tropical-hued flight of fancy.
Contains nothing objectionable.