Rio tells the story of a blue macaw, voiced by Jesse Eisenberg, taken from Brazil when he was an infant (do they call baby birds infants?) and by chance falls into the hands of a bookstore owner in Minnesota, where he is raised. A bird scientist shows up one day and informs the owner, Linda (Leslie Mann) that Blu, as the bird is now known, is the only male of his species in existence and that the scientist has a female in Rio and that Blu needs to return home and ensure the future of his kind. They fly down there (by airplane, Blu can’t fly himself, being domesticated), he’s brought to Jewel (Anne Hathaway), the last surviving female. Blu is a nebbishy homebody, Jewel wants to escape the research facility and go back to the rain forest. They are sprung by gangsters who want to sell them for their value as the last to birds of their kind, to whom, is less clear, just that “They’ll be worth a fortune” in the parlance of a movie like this. They escape the gangsters and as Blu tries to get back to Linda and Jewel tries to return to her natural home they are pursued by the bad guys and are joined by a colorful cast of characters and wouldn’t you know it, form a bond.
I shouldn’t hate so much on Rio, which is made for very small children, because on that level it works just fine. It’s very bright and colorful, there’s plenty to look at, the jokes are less pop culture- and bodily function-oriented then most of Dreamworks’ fair so I can’t be too hard on a movie that is tiresomely familiar to an old hand like me but would be new and wonderful for a tyke. Some animated films have something for the parents as well, this isn’t one of them, but it’s told with a lot of energy and humor, the songs are pretty good (well, one of the songs is pretty good, the villian’s solo, which is usually a highlight) and it should keep a young one entertained. In particular, I liked Jermaine Clement’s cockatoo henchmen quite a bit.
Rio is in a tradition of bright movies with familiar easy plots that includes Happy Feet (2006) and Kung Fu Panda (2008) and it’s not any better or worse than those movies, which I believe don’t deserve much more than being half watched on a tiny screen on the back of a headrest in a SUV. For Rio, some of one’s enjoyment depends largely on one’s feelings on birds, which can be quite distasteful for some. Personally, I like birds, I think they’re interesting, but my wife does not, she and Tippi Hedron share a loathing for them. Why do I bring this up? There’s a moment in the film when the scientist feeds a bird seed out of his open mouth, even in cartoon form this would have turned my wife’s stomach in a very real way.