You gotta think the researchers and location scouts at Blue Sky Studios did a little dance when they heard the news. After three snow-filled, deep freeze Ice Age films, they were suddenly packing their bags for sunny South America, home of bright colors, lush jungles, and Samba music. And even though Rio doesn’t always match the excitement level of its namesake city, you can see where the filmmakers certainly had fun trying.
Rio is the tale of a blue macaw named, well… Blu (Jesse Eisenberg) who is taken to Brazil’s former capital to mate with Jewel (Anne Hathaway), since they’re the last two birds of their kind. The trouble, though, is that Blu was raised in snow-filled Moose Lake, Minnesota (apparently Blue Sky had to keep the cold in play somehow) under the care of doting Linda (Leslie Mann). The owner of a local bookshop, Linda provided Blu with a sheltered life– he never learned to fly and instead spent his days book-learning, to become the smartest bird this side of Sesame Street.
When Blu and Jewel are bird-napped and chained together in a cage shortly after arriving in Rio, they must escape (which they do), and then they spend the better part of an hour on a quest to find the elusive Luiz, who, we’re told, can help get their shackles off.
Along the way, they meet wise-cracking toucan Rafael (George Lopez), a band of conniving monkeys, a pair of helpful locals (Jamie Foxx and will.i.am), and a no-good cockatoo named Nigel (Jemaine Clement).
There’s no question that the characters are colorful (and plentiful), and that the action occasionally comes fast and furious. The story is the real thing lacking here. Don Rhymer (who penned the nifty Surf’s Up) wrote the script, which is based on a story by director (and Rio native) Carlos Saldanha, who helmed the three Ice Age flicks. There’s a nice blend of kiddie and adult humor, and the drama gets ratcheted up (and then some, since it’s in 3D), but the eye candy and drama can’t keep Rio from feeling uneven– a little haphazard at times and almost slowing to a crawl at others.
Eisenberg initially seems like an odd choice as the voice of Blu, but his wry delivery actually adds quite a bit of fun to the part. Hathaway brings her trademark spunk and vivacity to Jewel, and Clement is a show-stealer as the sneering Nigel.
Overall, Rio is a perfectly fine family film that hits more than it misses. It looks a little like a hybrid of Madagascar and Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, and while it’s not as pure fun as either of those, the kids’ll have as good a time watching it as Blue Sky must have had creating it.