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April 17, 2011

After three Ice Age movies, Carlos Saldanha takes Blue Sky Studioes back to his Brazilian home with Rio. Of course, Rio de Janeiro is one of those cities with a distinctive, larger-than-life cultural cachet, like Paris or New Orleans. Unfortunately, the movie doesn’t quite live up to its namesake.

Blu (Jesse Eisenberg) is a blue macaw who has lived with Linda (Leslie Mann) in Moose Lake, Minnesota basically since birth. As a result, he hasn’t quite picked up the whole flying thing. Still, Blu and Linda are very close, and have carved out a cozy little life together in and above her book store.

That is, until a Brazilian ornithologist, Túlio (Rodrigo Santoro), shows up and reveals that there are only two remaining blue macaws in the world, and Blu is one of them. The other one is Jewel (Anne Hathaway), a spirited specimen being held at Túlio’s ornithological institute in Rio. And so Blu and Linda escape a harsh Minnesota winter to head for the Southern hemisphere, arriving just in time for Carnaval, which is probably the only thing about Rio de Janeiro more famous than Christ the Redeemer.

Blu and Jewel don’t exactly hit it off, but still they’re left overnight at the institute, which is when they’re bird-napped by a group of wildlife smugglers with the assistance of the carnivorous, cantankerous cockatoo, Nigel (Jemaine Clement). They manage to make a break for it, leaving them chained together alone in the Brazilian jungle.

Thus begins their adventure, trying to get the chain removed so they can each get back to their respective homes. Along the way, they enlist the assistance of an old soft-hearted toucan (George Lopez), a couple of hip birds (Jamie Foxx and, and a copiously drooling bulldog (Tracey Morgan). But Nigel is on their tails, having enlisted the tracking skills of a troupe of thieving monkeys.

The film is bright and colorful, though it’d probably be more so in 2D. And I’d be lying if I said it didn’t have its moments. Saldanha is always best the more he has going on at once; there’s a hang-gliding scene, a dance party, and of course the Carnaval parade itself to provide spectacle, but it seems to work more by giving plenty of shiny things to draw attention away from the basically weak plot.

And this might well be enough for a young enough audience to be entertained, but Blue Sky just doesn’t seem to have Pixar’s knack for including something for older audiences. Even a few oblique references would go a long way. For instance, a passing mention of the surname “Gunderson” does indicate that Blu is Norwegian, but bringing up “beautiful plumage” or that he’s “just resting” would have helped.

This being Rio, of course there’s a fair amount of music and dancing; again it’s good, but never really great. Clement’s number is very much in the spirit of his work with Flight of the Conchords, while Foxx and sound pretty much like you’d expect their collaboration to go. But it seemed really laid-back overall for Rio.

Still, even if it’s never really great, at least Rio isn’t ever actively stupid like Gnomeo & Juliet. And it was nice to see that Linda never had to lose her thick glasses, even as she and Túlio start to hit it off. And it does do a good job of portraying the effects, both social and complexionwise, when a Minnesotan moves to the tropics. It’s a nice one to take a little kid to, but doesn’t really stand up on its own merits the way the best of Pixar and DreamWorks Animation do.

Worth It: no.
Bechdel Test: fail.

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