It’s been a big couple of years for Rio de Janeiro. City of God was an art-house hit and the latest Fast & Furious movie was largely set there. Both of those movies take advantage of Rio’s reputation as a city riddled with crime and poverty, which I suppose is not untrue. But that’s not the city we see in 20th Century Fox’s new animate feature Rio.
Brazilian director Carlos Saldanha (Ice Age 2) takes us on holiday to a picture-postcard version of Brazil: the one where the beaches are beautiful and the radio always plays The Girl from Ipanema. Saldanha captures that atmosphere beautifully; though it’s a shame his characters aren’t as wonderful.
Jesse Eisenberg (The Squid And The Whale, The Social Network) leads the star cast as Blu, a flightless blue macaw who lives in wintry Minnesota with his owner Leslie Mann (Knocked Up). Their lives are turned upside-down when Mann encounters a handsome-yet-goofy Brazilian bird-scientist who convinces her to fly down to Rio so that Blu can mate with one of the few remaining females of his species (Anne Hathaway). Considering that all the animals are aware of what’s happening, this arrangement seems a lot like international sex trafficking. But let’s not mention that in front of the kids.
Before long, they’re kidnapped and involved in a plot to smuggle exotic birds out of Brazil (ah… the crime is never far away) and on their adventure, they assemble an unlikely posse including two jive-talkin’ canaries (Jamie Foxx and The Black Eyed Peas’ will.i.am) and a slobbery bulldog (Tracy Morgan).
There’s not a tremendous amount of originality in the characters. In fact: the marmosets that are drafted in by the bad-guys look and behave uncannily like the lemurs from Madagascar. Jemaine Clement from Flight of the Conchords plays an evil cockatoo and uncharacteristically sings a musical number in the middle of the film that seems like some half-way house rip-off of the Conchords.
For its shortcomings, there are a lot of things in Rio that we’ve never seen before. There’s a great chase through the Carnival that’s a lot of fun, the soundtrack is vibrant and the film is really a beauty to look at. It has something for everyone and is as gentle and easy to take in as the breeze on Copacabana beach.