Archived Reviews Rio (2011) Movie Review [8/10]

Rio (2011) movie PosterRio is an animated feature with a coherent, entertaining, and finely crafted story line. That alone shouldn't be enough to make a film noteworthy, but in comparison to other recent releases it most certainly is.

Fortunately Rio has more going for it than merely rising above a bar suitable for limbo dancing. Writer/director Carlos Saldanha has made a film that manages to tell a good story, paints a wonderful portrait of his native Rio de Janeiro, conveys the colour and spirit of Rio's carnival, and delivers a serious environmental message in the most subtle way possible.


Rio is centred on Blu (voiced by Jesse Eisenberg), a domesticated macaw. Removed from the jungle at a young age, Blu has been raised all his life in Minnesota by Linda (voiced by Leslie Mann). Blu and Linda's relationship is told in fast-forward as Linda matures. The two grow together in a close, insular friendship, so insular that the contented Blu has never learned to fly. The very idea scares him.

Enter Tulio (voiced by Rodrigo Santoro), a Brazilian ornithologist who informs them that Blu is the last remaining male blue macaw, and that he is in possession of the only female, Jewel (voiced by Anne Hathaway). Tulio pleads with them to help save the species. After much hesitation, Linda and Blu travel to Rio. When they arrive they are both well out of their comfort zone. During the first night at Tulio's aviary, we're introduced to Nigel (voiced by Jemaine Clement), a truly evil cockatoo. Nigel is in league with a trio of small time bird smugglers. Blu and Jewel are kidnapped, caged and chained together for export. The adventure begins.

The main plot deals with Blu and Jewel attempting to secure their freedom. This adventure is energized by the differences between Blu's contented domesticity and Jewel's fierce independence. The story also requires a small army of characters. Notables in the animal cast are Nigel a classic nemesis; Blu's fast friends, a cardinal named Pedro (voiced by; Nico a canary voiced by Jamie Foxx; and many more. On the human side we have a trio of small time criminals that set the film's comedic tone and a full compliment of extras. Central to bridging these casts is Fernando (voiced by Jake T. Austin) a poor boy with no family who assists the smugglers to earn money, but who then comes to the defence of Jewel and Blu when he realizes that the birds will not be well treated.

The music in this film is flawless. If the samba rhythms don't have you dancing in your seat, check your pulse. Featuring original music by (performed with Jamie Foxx) and Taio Cruz, and a new recording of “Mas Que Nada” by Sergio Mendes. Mendes, the film's executive music producer uses the soundtrack to complement the visual depiction of Rio as the film draws us into the climatic environment of Carnival.

Animation fans won't be disappointed by this film either. The third dimension is used with care and skill. Instead of objects popping out at us for the sole purpose of inducing vertigo, Rio uses 3D to showcase the city from every possible angle. Long pans over the skyline, soaring shots from hang gliders, and dramatic swoops through city streets are all brilliantly executed.

At the technical level, you would expect a film about birds to have a lot of feathers, and this one certainly does. It's clear that this film developed specialized feather algorithms. Not only is the rendering superb, but Saldanha avoids the common pitfall of showing it off just for the sake of showing it off. Everything integrates with the plot seamlessly. My only criticisms here are that Linda's character is perhaps a little too reminiscent of Toy Story's Jesse, and that there's a general lack of differentiation in the secondary characters. I spent a little too much time wondering if one minor character was the same as another, and if this was related to any of the plot lines. This was an unwelcome distraction.

Beneath the plots, Saldanha offers up vision of a city he clearly loves. Of all the films set in Rio, this one conveys more about the city and its spirit than any other I've seen. Saldanha uses the setting – starting the day before Carnival – to convey the colours and spirit of a dynamic Rio as it undergoes its annual transformation. But Rio is more than a postcard for the city. There are images of the wealthy city, towering buildings overlooking the beaches with expensive cars cruising tree-lined streets; there are markets jammed with people; and there are the densely packed slums. The detail is rich, from utility poles laden with a mazes of cables to the central stadium, glowing in the night like a beacon. There is the sensuousness of the city, but it's not sexual. There is geography and architecture as we follow a streetcar through the city, up into the hills. Along the way the film gives us a wealth of panoramic views and sketches of a vast array of buildings. The presentation is comprehensive.

Saldanha provides a rich cultural sketch as well. Music infuses the city everywhere we go. We see everything from the spectacle of Carnival to the desolation of the slums. One scene follows Fernando “home”, as he climbs lay upon layer to a tin shanty teetering on the roof of a building built on a building built on yet another building. This precarious two-sided shelter is where Fernando sleeps. In one scene a samba party is interrupted by a gang of simians recruited by Nigel. The resulting confrontation is a clear reference to Rio's gangs, but it's child-safe. You wouldn't notice if you weren't aware of the issue.

Rio's richness that is the most striking thing about the film. Children can easily follow this comic adventure that's filled with dynamic and interesting characters. Adult themes keep parents engaged as the film addresses environmental issues, poverty and wealth, love and culture. Impossibly all of this is assembled into a coherent and entertaining film that never feels overladen with messages. It is a tour de force of storytelling.

This film gets an unqualified 8 out of 10 rating. It's definitely worth watching, and I hope to see it again in both 3D and 2D.


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Art & Architecture

I've dabbled in many forms of art. Ray-traced digital art, writing, drawing, architecture, even paint on canvas. Some of it can be good. Most of it reflects the small amount of practice I have put into it. I'm now sharing most of it. The grossly incomplete and embarrassing bits are the only significant omissions.