a film by Carlos Saldanha

Rio, the latest 3D animation from those fine folks that gave us the Ice Age movies, is, if nothing else, a stunning visual marvel to behold. With its painterly backdrops and succulent, richly-coloured set pieces, the movie, or more specifically the movie's art direction, has you at first sight. Otherwise the movie is just another typical animated 3D movie. Sure, the kids will like it (as will the less critical adults) but once one gets past the gorgeous look of the movie and realizes there is not much more there than what one would expect to be there, this so-called love at first sight may begin to wither away to nothing more than a pleasant but quite respectable enjoyment of a movie that looks a lot better than it actually plays. Then again, as was the case for this critic, one can just let that aforementioned art direction, with all its deliciousness beautifully intact, and just enjoy oneself without too much worry about anything else. In other words - it's pretty dammit, so leave it alone! Of course anyone who knows me knows full well that I cannot just leave anything alone.

Compared (mostly unfavourably, except for perhaps visually) by one of my fellow critical compatriots, to Disney's 1944 paean to South American relations, The Three Caballeros, this tale of a Brazilian-born but Minnesota-raised blue macaw who is sent back home in order to mate with the one and only other blue macaw in known existence is an almost non-stop (though quite predictably so) series of adventures that involve all the usual twists and turns and trappings of the typical animated 3D movie. Again, it is in this typical bent that makes the film flop when one forgets about that aforementioned palette of brilliant colour. But then again, why should one ever forget about that palette of brilliant colour that makes Rio soar as high as it does. Given that this is basically the story of trying to get two birds to have sex with each other, I suppose the story is fun at its core (and even a bit kinky when one thinks about it), but fails in its typicality and predictability. But then again (and I feel like a broken record - if that term even has any relevance any more) the thing is simply gorgeous to look at.

Another juxtaposition the film gives us is in its stable of voices. We get good voice work from leads Jesse Eisenberg (as the domesticated Blu who never learned how to fly) and Anne Hathaway (as the wild Jewel who wants nothing more than to soar free over the treetops), as well as supporting actors Tracy Morgan (as a hapless but helpful bulldog whose jawful of drool can be a bit upsetting in close-up 3D) and Flight of the Conchords' Jemaine Clement (as a psychotic ex-movie star cockatoo named Nigel). But then we are also saddled with hip hop birds voiced by Jamie Foxx and (ugh!) Will i Am (really!? That is the name you've chosen!?) and an inexplicably Mexican toucan voiced by George Lopez. This, along with a soundtrack that is so far from the rhythms of Samba and the sounds of Rio itself that I do not see how the makers of the movie are not bowing their collective heads in shame (the director is Rio-born but the legitimacy of the feel of Brazil stops there), are enough to make even this critic begin to question just how far a visual stunning array of set pieces can go. I suppose they can take one just so far, but that may very well be far enough to appease most folks. [04/20/11]