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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Movie Review: RIO


Rio is a 2011 animated film directed by Carlos Saldanha that focuses on the last two blue macaws left on the planet. After Blu (voiced by Jesse Eisenberg) is taken from his jungle home, he finds himself in the ownership of a young Minnesota woman named Linda (voiced by Leslie Mann). The two live a carefree existence as companions until a Brazilian ornithologist named Tulio (voiced by Rodrigo Santoro) finds them and tells them that Blu is the last male of his species. After some convincing, Linda agrees to take Blu to Rio de Janeiro where Tulio's office is located. Once there, he attempts to get Blu to mate with his female blue macaw, Jewel (voiced by Anne Hathaway). Before they can do so, however, the two macaws are stolen by smugglers. While the humans desperately try to find them, Blu and Jewel attempt to escape from their captors, including a cockatoo named Nigel (voiced by Jemaine Clement). Once they're free, they must continue to elude re-capture and do so with the help of a toucan named Rafael (voiced by George Lopez) and two smaller birds named Pedro (voiced by Will i Am) and Nico (voiced by Jamie Foxx).

For the most part, we're given a pretty standard and predictable story. As soon as everything is set into motion, it's hard not to guess how the film will ultimately end. I mean, it's a kid's movie - it's not like the birds are going to get offed halfway through, leaving room for a political statement about how we should all respect the environment and the creatures living within it (although the "respect the environment" bit worked extremely well in a little movie called WALL-E). No, there's no over-arching and heavy-handed work here. We just have your basic story of "boy meets girl, girl hates boy, girl learns to love boy," etc., etc., etc. So there's really not much there to surprise you.

As a certain Captain Jack Sparrow said only a few days ago in his newest film, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, "it's not the destination so much as the journey." With a lot of kid's movies nowadays, it's very easy to figure out where we're going to end - the reason the good ones stand apart is because they offer something new and fresh in the time it takes us to reach that logical conclusion. While the storyline is pretty standard, the "freshness" of Rio comes from some of the film's aspects - namely, the voice acting and the musical composition.

Let's start with the actors. Eisenberg and Hathaway are decent as our leads, although I personally had a little bit of trouble listening to Eisenberg without thinking of any of his live-action performances. All I could see was Mark Zuckerberg trapped inside a bird's body, and it was a tad bit off-putting for the first half hour or so. However, the great vocal performances come from the supporting crew. Will i Am and Jamie Foxx steal the show with their mix of spoken word and singing pieces. Their comedy exceeds anything else in the film, going from the dorky to the socially relevant. They appeal to the broadest range, offering some scenes for the kids and some for the teens and adults who may be watching the film as well. I know that on-screen "chemistry" is a term usually left for romantic interludes, but there's a definite chemistry between these two in the film, and it works to their advantage. George Lopez is George Lopez, but it's still nice to hear his familiar voice now and again. I also thought that Clement did a fantastic job as the film's semi-principal villain, providing a maniacal and crazed bird to contrast the rest of the animals on the screen.

The music also works exceptionally well, truly adding a sense of realism to the film as a whole. Brazil is a country known for its music and its celebrations, so for any film set there had to convey as such. In this regard, Rio does not disappoint. The orchestral score from John Powell - who has also scored such animated films as Shrek, Happy Feet and Kung Fu Panda - does well conveying his part of the soundtrack. However, the real credit has to go to the original songs written for the film. My personal favorite songs in the film include the ensemble piece "Real In Rio," Will i Am and Jamie Foxx's "Hot Wings (I Wanna Party)," and Foxx's solo, "Fly Love." The rest of the songs are just as good, but those are easily the ones I enjoyed the most. Clement even gets a song of his own. All in all, I found the film's soundtrack to be superb.

Overall, Rio is a step ahead of being a good but forgettable film. There are a few pieces - namely the presence of Will i Am and Jamie Foxx - that make this movie a little more lasting than it probably deserves to be. Don't expect to be blown away by the storyline because you'll know exactly where it's going. Just take it for what it is, sit back and enjoy the ride, and I'm sure you'll have a blast.

Movie Review Summary:
Grade: B
1.5 Thumbs Up

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