(Carlos Saldanha, 2011, USA)
The latest animated feature from Blue Sky Studios, the company responsible for the forgettable Robots (2005) and the dwindling Ice Age franchise, stars Jesse Eisenberg as the voice of Blu, a sheltered blue macaw who, although living a domesticated life with his human owner in wintery Minnesota, discovers that he is the last living male of his kind in the world, and in order to save his species, must fly to Rio de Janeiro to meet and inevitably breed with one of the rare females named Jewel (Anne Hathaway). However, when the valuable two are stolen by Brazilian poachers, Blu’s inability at flying hinders their desperate attempts at escape and finding his way back to his worried owner.
First off, the casting of Eisenberg in the lead role is surprising at best considering the type of films and genres he usually stars in, yet it works and injects life into an otherwise unexceptional 3D adventure. Eisenberg’s involvement is definitely a divergence from critically lauded performances in films such as The Social Network, yet his portrayal of Blu smacks of the anxious, charming Jewish persona with which he has become associated, a deft balance of naive buffoonery and Semitic neurosis, spouting lines like “This is the coolest place I’ve ever seen, despite all the health code violations” in a scene which sees our heroes entering a bird-themed night club.
Despite its reasonably original premise, for a kids film at least, Rio is let down by the fact that it is another vehicle for useless 3D, useless because it adds nothing to the narrative and because the filmmakers feel the need to include the obligatory shots of objects flying at the screen for no apparent reason. Furthermore, the film’s sense of humour, despite having occasional moments of inspiration, caters predominantly towards youngsters, although there are a few jokes that teeter on the brink of innuendo, giving reason to the MPAA’s initial PG rating for “mild off-colour humour”, something 20th Century Fox weren’t exactly thrilled about. The film never quite knows whether it wants to be an all-out kid’s film or an adult-friendly animation in the Pixar mould, which has an alienating effect on the audience due to the confusion of who the humour, and indeed the film, is actually aimed at. This is furthered by Disney-inspired musical interludes that slow down rather than progress the narrative, doing nothing but showcase the vocal talents of Black Eyed Pea Will. i. Am, actor turned R’n’B artist Jamie Foxx and Flight of the Conchords star Jemaine Clement, who turns in a humorous performance as a malevolent cockatoo. Similarly, there is a certain amount of ethnic stereotyping within the characters, which would be okay if it wasn’t laid on so thick by the filmmakers, who clearly wish to appeal to a wider audience and try to appear ‘down with the lingo’ of assorted demographics, similar to what Dreamworks tried to do in what is perhaps their worst animated feature, Shark Tale.
As far as the voice cast go, no one comes close to Eisenberg and Clement in terms of charisma; Leslie Mann and Rodrigo Santoro make for very dry human characters in a lightweight romantic subplot and Hathaway is lifeless and not given much to do with her underwritten character, hampering the budding relationship between Jewel and Blu, which is static rather than emotionally satisfying, adding nothing to the age-old ‘opposites attract’ formulae. Though the animation is relatively flawless and the depiction of Rio is exotic and visually appeasing, Rio’s interchangeable ambience and comedic attitude puts it in danger of outstaying its welcome to older audiences, who will end up taking their kids to see what is essentially a harmless film that is let down by its unremarkable stature.