It doesn't take four minutes for "Rio" to set itself apart from all the "Ice Age" movies the animators at Blue Sky made before it. A rain forest filled with parrots, macaws, cockatoos and toucans sing and dance the samba in a flying delirium of color.
And then the poachers show up.
Comical, colorful, wonderfully cast and beautifully animated, “Rio” is the first Blue Sky movie that could be compared with the best of Pixar. It weighs weighty subjects with a light touch, embraces the music of the culture it visits, and delivers delights like few cartoons this side of the Golden Age of Disney.
This is an adventure comedy about endangered species set to a rump-shaking beat.
Blu, given a witty, nervous nerdy voice by the wonderful Jesse Eisenberg, is nabbed during the bird-napping expedition in the opening. He tumbles into the hands of little Linda and they grow up in Moose Lake, Minn., devoted to each other.
Fifteen years later, a goofy scientist (Rodrigo Santoro) talks shy, homebody Linda (Leslie Mann) into bringing Blu to Rio de Janeiro. Blu is the last male cerulean blue macaw and there’s a female blue macaw who has to be his Miss Right. Of course, the spunky, jungle-savvy Jewel (Anne Hathaway) wants nothing from Blu but his help escaping. That’s tricky, as he never learned how to fly. And he doesn’t get her mania for freedom.
“I wouldn’t expect a pet to understand,” she hisses.
And then they’re poached, again, by a gang of thieves with a wicked pet cockatoo (a perfect Jemaine Clement). The macaws will have to learn to work together. And they’ll need the help of a friendly, henpecked toucan (George Lopez), a couple of streetwise, crooning/rapping songbirds (Jamie Foxx, will. i. am) and a daffy bulldog (Tracy Morgan) to pull this off.
All this happens during Carnival, Brazil’s nationwide party of costumed parades, an orgy of glitter and song. The film showcases, in dazzling animated digital 3-D, the glories of Rio and this festival.
Native Brazilian director Carlos Saldanha may have earned his bones with those obscenely successful “Ice Age” movies, but give him a project close to his heart – he co-scripted this – and the movie just sings. Literally. Sergio Mendes consulted on the music, and from the assorted sambas and insertion of “The Girl from Ipanema” to the bossa nova beat of other tunes – it shows.
“I poop on people,” Clement croons in a song he wrote, “and blame it on the seagulls.”
There isn’t a bad voice in the mix. And giving somebody with Lopez’s timing the job of getting the two non-lovebirds together pays off, and how.
“Young love, always so melodramatic.”
The songs themselves don’t compare with Disney’s best, even Clement’s wickedly funny “Pretty Bird.”
But “Rio” is such a delight, so much better than anything we’ve seen in animated form this year, that you won’t mind the 3-D premium prices, you won’t hate that your children want to watch the BluRay over and over again when it comes out on video, and won’t dread the compulsion they’ll feel to do sequels and probably spoil it as they do.
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Cast: Voices of Jesse Eisenberg, Anne Hathaway, Leslie Mann, George Lopez, Tracy Morgan, Jamie Foxx, will. i. am
Director: Carlos Saldanha
Running time: 1:32
Rating: PG; mild, off-color humor