Somehow, Rio is the first movie from 2011 that I’ve seen. So I figured that I’ll try to write up little reviews for every 2011 film I see. I don’t know how long that’ll last, but I’d like to at least get a few thoughts about each one.
There are always a lot of animated kids movies in theatres, but it seems like there’s been a new one out each week lately. But between Mars Needs Moms and Gnomeo and Juliet, a lot of them seemed a bit too juvenile for adult audiences. So of course my pretentious sensibilities gravitated to the one starring Jesse Eisenberg (who would probably be terrified of children, in actuality). A neurotic bird who can’t fly has to be comedy gold, right?
Well, kind of.
At its base, Rio is a movie for kids. This shows in some of the humour that relies on tame puns, and in the sometimes weak script. You don’t get the sharp humour of Tangled, the heartfelt dialogue of Toy Story 3, or the simple visual emotional heft of How to Train Your Dragon.
But Rio is still a very cute movie. To begin with, the animation is lovely. The film mostly takes place in Brazil, where the domesticated main character, Blu, is brought to breed with the last remaining female of his species. And with this tropical setting, the animators bring virtually every possible colour to life on screen. From the various birds to the sprawling rainforest, everything feels so vibrant. And while less of the film takes place in natural settings than I had expected, the film finds just as much energy in the city of Rio de Janeiro itself. The cityscape is unique, and the film actually does a great job of showing the scope of the area’s architecture and living conditions. They even integrate the towering presence of the city’s famous Christ the Redeemer statue (which always makes me think of Baz Luhrman’s Romeo + Juliet). Maybe this whole film is some kind of cleverly-constructed tourist advert for Brazil, because I spent a good portion of the film thinking about how I suddenly want to visit Rio.
But the exotic setting is not the only thing working in Rio‘s favour. Despite a lot of kid-oriented humour, there is still plenty for adult audiences, too. Tracy Morgan’s salivating bulldog is the source of a few solid laughs, and Will.i.am and Jamie Foxx are surprisingly funny as an odd-couple pair of bird sidekicks. One especially funny scene comes when the two of them try to serenade Blu and his female counterpart, Jewel (Anne Hathaway). (Even if, as my friend pointed out, it is kind of reminiscent of the “Kiss the Girl” scene in The Little Mermaid.)
Jesse Eisenberg also does a fantastic job of elevating the material with his dry wit. His mere presence automatically makes the film seem a bit more “mature”, and he gives a really spectacular vocal performance. He’s funny and sarcastic when necessary, and he also excels in the film’s more subtle, tender moments.
Anne Hathaway is also good, though she is given less to do. One of my main complaints with the film is that her character, Jewel, felt rather underdeveloped. She’s a strong female character, but we never learn much about her. I think the romance between the two leads would have been far more impactful if we knew more about her character, and understood better why the two of them would fall in love. Their romance feels slightly rushed, as does the ending of the film.
Overall, Rio is a fun time at the movies. The film, while nothing groundbreaking, is greatly helped by Eisenberg’s performance, the beautiful animation, and a couple of expertly placed musical numbers throughout. If you’re looking for a cute diversion, you could do a lot worse.