Directed by Carlos Saldanha. Voices by Jesse Eisenberg, Anne Hathaway, Leslie Mann, Rodrigo Santoro, Will.i.am, Jamie Foxx, George Lopez, Tracy Morgan. (2011, G, 96 min.)
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., April 22, 2011
It's probably unfair but certainly impossible to avoid using the metaphorical Pixar yardstick when discussing the new breed of digitally animated films, especially in light of Up's magnificent melding of 3-D and deeply nuanced narrative. John Lasseter's little animation company that could (now Disney-Pixar), has evolved by orders of magnitude since its desk-lamp mascot Luxo Jr. first squeaked onto the scene in the eponymous 1986 short. Pixar's only obvious rival, in fact, is Blue Sky Studios, creators of the Ice Age series beloved of everyone's 3-to-8-year-old, both inner and outer. So does Rio measure up to the insanely great standard set by Pixar? Visually, yes. Rio is positively trippy when it comes to blowing your mind with explosively eye-popping animation. Although it deploys a hypervibrant, surrealistic color palette that would do Wong Kar-Wai and Christopher Doyle proud, Rio is gaudy, ocular treacle of the most elemental kind. Its judicious use of 3-D, too, is solid and subtle, working to enhance the story in myriad ways. Unfortunately, that story is one told too many times before, and more lyrically, more poignantly, by – wait for it! – Pixar (and before Pixar, Disney). Forced separation from one's natural environment and learning to fly on one's own (both literally and figuratively) are the twinned themes. Eisenberg voices Blu, a Brazil-born bird snatched at hatching from his rain forest aerie by exotic pet smugglers and soon after accidentally deposited in frigid Minnesota. There, the flightless blue macaw is adopted and BFF'd by Linda, a little girl who grows up to have the voice of Leslie Mann and becomes the owner of a small bookstore. When Rio de Janeiro-based ornithologist Tulio (Santoro) arrives with the news that Blu is the last male of his species, the trio flies to Brazil where Blu meets his intended paramour, the feral Jewel (Hathaway), and everyone's plans run afowl, so to speak, of the smugglers and general favela-chic craziness. Will Blu learn to fly? Will Jewel fall for the hapless blue schmo? Will the equally sheltered Linda bust out of her wallflower shell and shake her ass atop a gigantic, bird-themed Carnival float? Is Pixar still the uncontested king of emotionally extravagant animated awesomeness? If you answered yes to "all of the above," you win a better-than-average animated family film suitable for kids of all ages but about as ephemeral as the ever-shifting colors in a cheap childhood kaleidoscope.