Fly Down to "Rio" for a Great Adventure
Carlos Saldanha was riding high, having created the wildly successful "Ice Age" franchise with Chris Wedge of Blue Sky Studios. After directing the similarly popular sequels "Ice Age 2: The Meltdown" and "Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs," Saldanha decided to film something a little closer to home in his native Brazil and directed "Rio" (2011), set in Rio de Janeiro. It came from an idea Saldanha had been working on for a decade, which originally involved penguins but then was changed to macaws after several other films used penguins as characters. It was a bit of a gamble, as few animated films had been set in South America, but Saldanha was determined. With his success, he finally had the chance to realize his dream, and he buckled down and handed off the successful "Ice Age" franchise to others.
|Linda and Blu|
Tyler Blu Gunderson (Jesse Eisenberg) is a male Macaw who is found by little girl Linda Gunderson (Leslie Mann) in Minnesota and becomes her pet. Many years later, Linda takes Blu - who never learned to fly - down to Rio de Janeiro. There, to pay for the trip provided by Tulio (Rodrigo Santoro), Blu must mate with another Macaw. When he meets his intended, Jewel (Anne Hathaway), Blu falls in love and they decide to escape together. Instead, they are captured by young boy Fernando (Jake T. Austin) and a Cockatoo, Nigel (Jermaine Clement). Nigel is determined to turn the Macaws over to smugglers, but Blu manages to get free, so he and Jewel escape into the jungle despite dragging leg chains.
|There are gorgeous beach and jungle scenes throughout|
Fernando meets Linda and tells her that he had second thoughts about capturing birds for smugglers. Blu and Jewel, safe in the jungle, meet a Toco Toucan named Rafael (George Lopez) who promises them help in getting rid of their chains. Nigel hires some marmosets to recapture Blu and Jewel, and they almost succeed at a party the two Macaws attend.
Afterwards, Blu and Jewel finally meet Rafael's friend Luiz (Tracy Morgan), who frees them from their chains. Deciding that he will only slow Jewel down because he can't fly, Blu sets off on his own, but then Nigel manages to capture Jewel. Linda and Tulio close in on the smugglers, and Blu learns of Jewel's capture and also returns to try and free her.
|Blu and Jewel|
Nigel manages to capture Blu as well, but Linda and Tulio are nearby disguised as dancers. The smugglers, led by Marcel (Carlos Ponce), get to the airport and take off in their plane, but Blu manages to free himself and Jewel again. The also release all the other birds being smuggled by the poachers, and Blu uses a fire extinguisher to send Nigel out of the plane and into the engine, where he loses his feathers. Blu also falls out of the plane, and it looks as if she may fall to her death, but Blu leaps out of the plane, figures out how to fly, and rescues her. Afterwards, they all return to Linda, who helps them get better, organizes a bird sanctuary, and adopts Fernando.
|Nigl and Blu|
The 3D animation is very colorful, and the animators took great pains to get the look and feel of Rio as accurate as possible. They consulted bird experts, and Saldanha used his own Brazilian upbringing to mold the plot in a culturally authentic way. Sergio Mendes arranged the music by top acts such as will.i.am and Carlinhos Brown, contributing to the South American feel of the production. Keeping the ambience authentic is probably why they left out Duran Duran's "Rio," which is a shame, because it would have fit right in with the party atmosphere.
|Nigel, voiced by Jermaine Clement|
The voice actors are all terrific. Anne Hathaway, of course, is a top actress who is a veteran at doing voice roles (Hathaway voiced Haru in the 2002 English version of "The Cat Returns"). She previously had worked with Jesse Eisenberg in the Fox television series "Get Real," so they have a familiar sound together. Clement is part of the New Zealand comedy duo "Flight of the Conchords," and his character in "Rio" is a riff on his comedy alter ego. Everybody was comfortable in their role, and it shows in the relaxed and engaging voice presentation.
|Rafael, Blu and Jewel|
As you might expect, "Rio" did extremely well overseas, where it was released first, topping the box international office for several weeks. It had the largest opening weekend ever in Brazil, but also did very well in China and Russia. The U.S. domestic box office also was good, with "Rio" earning $143 million in the states and $341 million overseas, for a grand total of $484 million. Those aren't quite "Ice Age" numbers, but they are still very healthy profits. The success of "Rio" justified a sequel, "Rio 2," which Saldanha is directing, with all of the same stars are returning. The sequel "Rio 2" is due out in April 2014.
|"Rio" makes beautiful use of the scenery. You didn't expect not to see that statue, did you?|
You can't argue with success. "Rio" has a unique flavor that contrasts nicely with more prosaic animated films set in cold climates or cities. It almost feels as if you are visiting the tropics for a while. Some will say that the script is a bit predictable and that it isn't quite up to the standards of "Ice Age," but few films are. One of the nice things about "Rio" is that everything is kept light and breezy, rather than Saldanha turning it into some kind of reverential homage to his homeland where everybody is noble and pure and everything is done by the book. He makes sure to touch on all the cultural highlights (tourist attractions) of the city and pretty much leaves the reverential bows behind after that.
|Blu skates through Carnival|
The film is available in several different packages which are a bit confusing. There is a 4-disc "Party Edition" which includes 3D Blu-ray and all other formats, a 3-disc "Party Edition" minus the 3D disc, a 2-Disc "Party Edition" (no Blu-ray or 3D), and a single-disc DVD. Despite the aggravation of having too many choices of formats, with such a colorful ambience and catchy tunes, along with the fun voice actors, you really can't go wrong with "Rio."
Below is the official trailer for "Rio."
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