Rio Review

The latest animated adventure from Blue Sky Studios, the company that brought you Ice Age and its sequels, marks a dramatic shift from the barren frozen world to one of lush plant life and birds with a flair for Samba music. Rio tells the story of a two Blue Macaws from different worlds bound together (with a chain, actually) for an adventure filled with kidnapping, singing, and a combination of flying and falling. It’s easily Blue Sky’s best and most mature outing to date, thanks to great performances by the likes of Jesse Eisenberg, Anne Hathaway and Leslie Mann, and a script that’s equally rewarding for children and their parents. It stumbles a bit in the animation and with its very obvious fish out of water story, but in the end it wins over audiences as one of the most enjoyable animated features of the year.

Taken from Rio to be sold as an exotic pet in the US, Blu (Eisenberg) accidentally lands in the care of a little girl named Linda (Mann). The two grow up as fast friends, and fall into a comfortable rhythm in their quiet Minnesota town, where Blu enjoys comforts like hot chocolate, cookies, and can walk wherever he needs to go. Their life of routine comes to an end when Blue Macaw specialist Tulio (Rodrigo Santoro) tracks them down and convinces them to travel to Rio where Blu and Jewel, the last female Blue Macaw, can mate and save the species. The initial meeting sees a clash of personalities, but what really stops their progress is their kidnapping by a greedy smuggler who wants to sell them to the highest bidder. Chained and caged, Jewel and Blu seem doomed, until they escape and begin their journey to safety with the help of the Toucan Rafael (George Lopez), the Yellow Canary Nico (Jamie Foxx), and the Red-crested Cardinal, Pedro (will.i.am).

The animation that superbly carried the animal-dominated Ice Age films falters when used in Rio which has a human element running alongside the birds. The contrast is actually rather stark, with the intricate details of individual feathers bringing the birds of the film to life with fantastic beauty, whereas the human characters suffer from a very plastic look. Their bulbous features ranks a notch below the rendered characters of Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs whose characters, though still cartoonish, managed to be slightly more convincing, but it helped that in Cloudy there were no highly rendered birds filling the screen the other half of the movie. In the end, it just feels like all the attention went to the birds, while the humans in the picture were more of an afterthought. They still look good, but the uneven levels between the two can be jarring. Luckily, after the opening 20 minutes, the birds and the people rarely meet.

That difference in the animation makes the Blu-ray presentation of Rio something of a double-edged sword. The birds and the lush jungles of Rio make the film a real treat in hi-def, and while the people are still rendered in the same engine and thus quite polished, the spectacle just isn’t the same. The musical numbers and the well constructed background sounds of Rio (both in nature and the city) give Rio plenty of depth in the audio. It’s certainly a film deserving of the Blu-ray purchase, but that slight inequity in the animation can’t help but be noticed.

Blu-ray Bonus Features

The combo pack has the film on Blu-ray, DVD, and as a digital copy. All of the extras, of which there are quite a few, are on the Blu-ray and they include a deleted scene and featurettes on the voice cast, the rich audio track used to create Rio’s vibrant atmosphere, a making-of piece on the “Hot Wings” musical number, an activity for the kids that guides them through basic Samba dance steps along with the music, a look at the real city of Rio, and a jukebox feature that lets you replay the movie’s songs on demand. The music videos for “Welcome to Rio” and “Telling the World” by Taio Cruz round out the features set. If you enjoy the BD Live functions, you can go online and get additional behind-the-scenes content. After you get your fill of production and animation tie-ins, the game comes with extra levels for the Rio edition of Angry Birds, so if you have time (like forever) to kill, you can redeem the code and play 15 additional levels.

Just a quick note, for those out there with a Sony Playstation 3 or other Sony Blu-ray device, there is a known compatibility error with Fox Blu-rays and the Sony hardware that can cause a freeze in the picture as the audio continues, only to then jump to catch up with the sound. Rio has exhibited this problem, and unless Sony and Fox ever communicate over the issue, it’ll be an ongoing struggle for people attempting to enjoy Fox Blu-ray titles on Sony devices. C’est la vie technologique.

"Rio" is on sale August 2, 2011 and is rated G. Adventure, Animation, Children & Family, Comedy. Written and directed by Carlos Saldanha. Starring Anne Hathaway, George Lopez, Jamie Foxx, Jemaine Clement, Jesse Eisenberg, Leslie Mann, WilliAm.

Lex Walker • Editor

He's a TV junkie with a penchant for watching the same movie six times in one sitting. If you really want to understand him you need to have grown up on Sgt. Bilko, Alien, Jurassic Park and Five Easy Pieces playing in an infinite loop. Recommend something to him - he'll watch it.


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