Friday, April 15, 2011


Review by Pete Roche

It’s been said that dinosaurs are the ancestors of modern-day birds.  Perhaps that relationship inspired ICE AGE director Carlos Saldanha to focus his latest CGI cartoon on our feathered friends instead of prehistoric lizards.  Maybe he just wanted to work with a warmer environs—one that reminded him of his Brazilian home. 

The result is RIO—a festive fantasy about a domesticated parrot who earns his wings (and gets the girl) while evading poachers in a loud and foreign land.  It’s a vibrant, ecological fable-in-disguise showcasing the tropical tourist destination of Rio de Janiero during its annual Carnival.  Hang-glider glimpses of the famous Christ the Redeemer statue and cable car ride from Sugarloaf Mountain are set to the smooth sounds of Sergio Mendez and Lionel Richie for amorous (or comedic) effect.  Love is truly for the birds in this airy Eden.

Blu (voiced by Jessie Eisenberg of SOCIAL NETWORK and ZOMBIELAND) is a cerulean macaw who’s been living an idyllic life with his brainy, redheaded human owner Linda in a Minnesota bookshop for the past fifteen years.  Things get cuckoo for Blu when Latino ornithologist Tulio proposes mating him with a female macaw in order to repopulate their critically endangered species.  Turns out Blu is the last male of his kind—but the anxious big-beak isn’t sure he’s up to the task.  After years of pampering, he’s as socially inept as his owner.  In fact, he’s so grounded he can’t even fly.

Linda accompanies Blu to Tulio’s conservation clinic in South America, where the nerdy bird fails to hit it off with female partner, Jewel (Anne Hathaway).  It’s not all his fault, however; Jewel is more preoccupied with escape than romance.  Too bad the would-be-lovebirds are abducted by exotic pet dealers in the middle of the night and thrust into the unfamiliar environs of Rio’s favela slums.  Linda is distraught, but Tulio vows to help reclaim the rare birds.

Blu and Jewel spend the majority of the film shackled together, which gives them ample opportunity to get cozy—but which frustrates Jewel’s instinctive urge to just fly off.  She doesn’t trust humans and can’t understand Blu’s fuss over Linda.   In time, however, Jewel learns Blu isn’t such a dork, and that humans aren’t all bad.  A little matchmaking magic from other candy-colored birds like toucan Rafael (George Lopez), canary Nico (Jamie Foxx), and cardinal Pedro ( goes a long way toward endearing the macaws to each another and propagating their kind. 

Jermaine Clement is delightful as the thieves’ sadistic pet cockatoo, Nigel—a former show-bird who “poops on people” and blames it on seagulls.  Adding to the mix of miscreants is King Mauro, a kleptomaniac marmoset whose monkey pals are recruited to scour the city for the fugitive birds.  Luiz, a bulldog with a flair for mechanics (and samba) lends a hand…er, paw.

We’ve seen zoological shenanigans before in MADAGASCAR, RANGO, and OVER THE HEDGE, but Saldanha and his Blue Sky Studios make good on their eye-catching aviary adventure.  3 out of 4 stars.

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