“Hello, Pretty Bird…”
Director/writer Carlos Saldanha is perhaps best known for his work on the Ice Age films. He’s been a part of the director duties on all three of the films so far. It’s natural that he might wish to step away from the popular franchise and find a computer animation project that is more of a work of passion for the young talent. He decided to write and direct his own feature and set it in his native Brazil. His own childhood growing up in the area allows him to infuse the creative process with vivid environments and a story that is rich in cultural flavor, particularly the music of the country. It’s a work straight from his heart, and it takes us on quite a nice journey through his home country. But is Rio up to par with the likes of the Ice Age films? Probably not.
The film certainly sports the same kind of charming animal characters voiced by strong names in the industry. The story focuses on the tale of a rare blue macaw named appropriately Blu (Eisenberg). As the film begins, Blu has just been born and has not yet mastered the fine art of flying. When smugglers take to the jungles of Brazil to capture birds to sell, Blu is ensnared in their haul. But a traffic mishap leaves his crate thrown from the truck where it is discovered by Linda (Mann). Of course, we can’t have one of our likable characters participate in the crime by purchasing the bird from the thugs. She adopts and names Blu, and our story jumps forward several years. Linda and Blu are now grown and have become quite attached to each other. When Tulio (Santoro) arrives, he has news that Blu might be the very last male of his species. There is a female in Brazil, and Tulio wants to bring them together to keep the species from going extinct. So Blu and Linda travel to Rio to meet Jewel (Hathaway), who is a captive at a research center. When she meets Blu, she is underwhelmed and is thinking only of escape. Before long the two birds are loose, and the hijinx begin. Smugglers and other natural dangers lead to adventure for all.
The first thing you really notice about Rio is the stylish animation. Saldanha has gone out of his way to bring the rich locations and cultural brightness of Brazil to the production. The animation plays out almost like a travelogue of the country. The next thing you’ll notice is the music. Some of Brazil’s most famous musicians have been brought on board to provide an incredible musical experience. It’s all very festive and will put you in a Brazilian mood, to be sure.
But that’s also the trappings of this animated feature. Saldanha tries so very hard to introduce us to all of the splendor of his country that he forgets to bring along an interesting story. It’s all very contrived and plays out in completely predictable circles. It’s a lot of running from bad guys and characters getting separated. What the writers miss here is a wonderful coming-of-age tale that this feature merely hints at until it is pretty much thrust upon us at the conclusion. It is here that the film becomes pretty much a mess. It’s a confusing “rescue” that doesn’t pay off emotionally at all.
What the production doesn’t have in story it attempts to replace with one of the oldest sleight-of-hand tricks in animation history: the voice cast. He goes for big names with such talent as Anne Hathaway, Jamie Fox, Will i Am, Wanda Sykes and George Lopez. Some of these choices are absolutely golden. Lopez has become one of my favorite voices on these films of late. He really knows how to add some serious life to these animal characters. But Anne Hathaway, while not at all bad in the role, doesn’t really bring the character to life in the same way. It’s a fine voice but rather generic at times. This is one of those films where the sidekick minor characters are far more interesting and compelling.
Rio is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.40:1. The 1080p image is arrived at with an AVC MPEG-4 codec at an average 35-40 mbps. There is no question that this is a stunning high-definition image presentation. Colors are incredibly bright and festive. The environments look quite realistic. I dare say that Brazilians will have no trouble recognizing the locations copied for the animation. There is splendid detail in every frame. The character designs are fine with humans that still don’t look quite right. The animation manages to deliver nuances in texture and detail that make this a real treat for the eyes. Black levels are superb with layer upon layer of shadow definition.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 is alive with the sounds of a team of world-class musicians. This might be the most compelling part of the film. The audio does a great job of reproducing these tantalizing sounds and rhythms. Dialog comes through perfectly. There are some wonderful surround moments, particularly with the music and climactic festival.
All in HD
Deleted Scene: (1:29) Presented through an animated storyboard.
Explore The World Of Rio: An interactive map with short features.
Saving The Species One Voice At A Time: (24:49) This is the behind-the-scenes stuff with focus on the characters and voice actors.
The Making Of Hot Wings: (8:02) Focus on music takes us into the recording sessions.
The Sounds Of Rio: (13:30) Here we get to see the various musicians interacting and working on the unique sound of the film. There are also some animation tests.
The Real Rio: (9:31) A look at the real city through the eyes of the animation team. In spite of the title there is actually very little real footage to be found here.
Music Video/DVD Copy/Digital Copy
The thing that comes through most here is the passion of Carlos Saldanha for his native country. He absolutely does an incredible job of taking us inside the place. There are a lot of other elements that work as well. I just don’t get the feel of cohesion at all here. It’s a great rental. The kids will get exposed to some culture, and they might have a good time. I just don’t see this one doing very well on the home video shelf. But I do feel like I’ve visited a small section of Brazil. As a travelogue: “This is the coolest place I’ve ever seen! You know, despite the obvious health code violations!”