With sweeping shots and carefully crafted detail, “Rio” takes flight as a visual treat.
Pet Blu (voiced by Jesse Eisenberg) is the last male blue macaw on the planet, and after some persuasion, his owner Linda (voiced by Leslie Mann) agrees to take him to Rio de Janeiro to meet female macaw Jewel (voiced by Anne Hathaway). The two birds get snatched up by smugglers and must enlist the help of local birds to escape.
The soaring music, infused with Latin beats and samba rhythms, adds character to the already stunning location. Musical breaks, like an evil villain song from the cockatoo Nigel (voiced by Jemaine Clement) are fun and energetic additions to the film. There’s also a club scene where the birds groove to a rap by canary Nico (voiced by Jamie Foxx) and cardinal Pedro (voiced by will.i.am).
What’s most impressive is the vocal work of the actors, who channel their on-screen energy through their voices. Eisenberg is his stumbling, awkward and excitable self, fitting Blu’s personality. Tracy Morgan steals the show as Luiz, a bulldog with more spunk than the one-dimensional humans in the film, bringing solid jokes and positive energy.
Visually, the film is breathtaking. Shots capture the entire city from, yes, a bird’s-eye view, and the beautifully composed scenes follow the action across Rio. The color and look of different bird species, from toucans to the star macaws, are spot on.
The movie picks up once Blu and Jewel start to fall in love. As the typical independent female, all Jewel wants to do is be free from her cage. Blu must learn to trust his heart rather than his head, and she helps him succeed along the way.
The writing itself is nothing spectacular. The plot is highly predictable, even for a movie aimed at a younger audience. It doesn’t take a bird expert to know Blu, who never learned to fly, will somehow have to pull himself together and, in a thrilling moment of suspense, fly on his own.
But, the abrupt ending leaves audiences with no real lesson about “being yourself” or “learning new things,” as one might expect in a kid-focused film.
The colorful visuals, music and vocal work help “Rio” soar, but the lack of a conclusive ending and the predictable plot might ruffle a few feathers.
“Rio” was written by Don Rhymer, Joshua Sternin, Jeffrey Ventimilia and Sam Harper, and directed by Carlos Saldanha.