Highflying family fun


It’s easy to tell that the fine-feathered fun of “Rio,” with its every-color-in-the-Crayola-box of Brazilian birds doing synchronized showstoppers a la Busby Berkeley, was a passion project for its native son, filmmaker Carlos Saldanha.

The director, who has spent most of his career in the colder climes of the popular “Ice Age” animated series since joining New York’s Blue Sky Studios in ’93, brings a lot of warm affection to this South American 3-D animated tale of love, species preservation and learning to fly.

What we have here is truly a rare bird, and I’m not talking about the world’s last two blue macaws, voiced by Jesse Eisenberg and Anne Hathaway, at the center of this flighty tale. No, the nearly extinct species of which I speak is the G-rated family movie -- nice for a change to sit through a film with literally no cringe or fear factor. Still, it’s not easy being G, and “Rio” could have used a bit more spice (not of the salty sort), but more about that later.

The movie stars “The Social Network’s” Eisenberg as the voice of bird-nerd Blu, a baby macaw caught up in a fandango of a musical opening that makes him easy pickings for exotic animal thieves. He’s trucked north until fate intervenes and Blu tumbles into the hands of Linda (Leslie Mann), a young brainiac (she wears glasses) who lives in shivery Moose Lake, Minn. Fast forward a few years, and we find the two best friends running the local bookstore -- well she works while he reads up on the aerodynamics of flight, something Blu’s never figured out.


The story, basically an eco-sensitive variation on “101 Dalmatians” with birds as prey, was conceived by Saldanha and brothers Earl Richey Jones and Todd Jones, then handed over to a series of screenwriters including Don Rhymer, Joshua Sternin and Jeffrey Ventimilia, and Sam Harper. When “Rio’s” tale-feathers droop, as they periodically do, you can’t help but wonder if all that intervention made it more bland.

The beat picks back up after Linda and Blu hop a plane to Rio so that our Minnesota macaw can meet his match, a spirited beauty named Jewel (Hathaway). These are not, however, birds of a feather, what with Blu’s low-key existential fretting about freedom and forest life the polar opposite of Jewel’s fearless flier. Meanwhile, Linda’s caught the eye of the Brazilian ornithologist Tulio (Rodrigo Santoro), and let me just say there’s nothing quite like an ornithological romantic.

Soon enough there is real trouble in paradise, along with the crowds who’ve converged for the city’s annual bacchanal of Carnival. The bird smugglers are back with a chewed-up cockatoo named Nigel (a drolly wicked Jermaine Clement of Flight of the Conchords fame) in charge of the high jinks. Out to save the day is the Blu crew led by a couple of buddies, Pedro (Black Eyed Peas’ and Nico (Jamie Foxx), with George Lopez’s aging toucan the voice of wisdom and Tracy Morgan’s Luiz a mechanical whiz with a drool issue.

That’s a whole lot of comic firepower just begging to be lit and not a match in sight. Don’t get me wrong, you will laugh, but you will not get giggle spasms in your side, or have hysterical tears course down your cheeks. The musical numbers, on the other hand, snap, crackle and pop. The legendary Sergio Mendes serves as executive music producer with the music by John Powell (“How to Train Your Dragon”). The Peas’ well-punctuated will pitches in a song and some vocals, Foxx sings too. In all, a lot of musical collaborators help fashion “Rio’s” lively and very likable samba, techno, hip-hop-influenced sound.

Nor should there be any ruffled feathers when it comes to “Rio’s” brilliantly bright animation, under the supervision of art director Thomas Cardone (“Ice Age: The Meltdown” among others). Though the colors are primary color fabulous, the real trick is in the character design and movement, unerringly naturalistic in that splashy cartoon way and helped along by something called a stereoscopic team, which sounds vaguely uncomfortable but definitely works here.

Actually, more things work than not in this sweetened sweet bird of youth. Maybe the G is for good fun or great music or a gentle good time.




MPAA rating: G

Running time: 1 hour,

36 minutes

Playing: In general release