Friday, 8 April 2011

'Rio' review:

The weather has taken a turn for the better here in the UK and with the summer months come the summer movies. With crushing predictability, there will be comic book adaptations ('Thor', 'Captain America', 'The Green Lantern'), accountancy-driven sequels ('Scream 4', 'Pirates 4', 'Hangover 2') and, of course, family-oriented 3D animations. The heavy hitters in that field, Pixar and Dreamworks, will likely dominate the coming months with sequels to 'Cars' and 'Kung Fu Panda' respectively, but first out of the gates is an effort from Blue Sky Studios, the Fox-owned animation unit behind the 'Ice Age' series.

'Rio' is the fish out of water story of a domesticated bird, a rare blue macaw, named Blu (Jesse Eisenberg) who is spirited away from his comfortable home in a cold Minnesota town and taken back to his natural habitat in sunny Rio de Janeiro, in order to propagate his endangered species with the feisty, independent Jewell (Anne Hathaway). Directed by Rio native Carlos Saldanha, the film is a celebration of the vibrant musical life of the city, with a sanitised version of its world-famous carnival an ever-present feature as Blu aims to evade a gang of poachers and return to his obsessive owner Linda (Leslie Mann). Also along for the ride are a slobbering bulldog voiced with charm by '30 Rock' star Tracy Morgan, a paternal Toucan portrayed by Mexican American comedian George Lopez and a singing comedy duo courtesy of and Jamie Foxx.

It's bright, colourful and its intentions seem pure, yet 'Rio' is decidedly average from an animation standpoint and uninvolving on a story level. The human characters lack detail and incidental characters seem to come in two generic flavours (fat white man and thin black man), whilst the character animation lacks nuance. Every one of the wacky cast of characters derive their comic sensibilities directly from the Jerry Lewis/Jim Carey school, waving their arms (or wings) about and shouting every single line. Meanwhile Blu's personal journey - in which he must learn to embrace his animal instincts in order to fly - is a bore. To say it's sub-Pixar is to give the film too much credit - the truth is it's sub-Dreamworks.

Jokes fall flat, musical numbers are forgettable and most of the characters are irritating, albeit with two exceptions. Linda is funny due to her pathetic, obsessive devotion to her pet bird. It isn't clear from the start whether the filmmakers are aware of how crazy Linda's attachment to her feathered friend is, which makes it all the more funny. Sadly though, you soon find that this is written into the story and it starts to feel as flavourless as everything else as the film outstays its welcome. A more compelling reason to sit through 'Rio' is presented by the villainous Nigel, voiced by Jermaine Clement, one half of Flight of the Conchords.

Clement's delivery provides the film's only laugh-out-loud moments and his song is the only one which doesn't completely suck (though I'm not exonerating it entirely). He's certainly a lot more fun than the more overt comedy sidekicks played by Foxx and, who are frankly an embarrassment to behold.

Easily pleased children may find 'Rio' more diverting than I did. But with American animated films showing signs of increased maturity in the last two decades, the bar has been raised and 'Rio' is a relic. Little Timmy might find more to laugh at here than I did, but that isn't to say he wouldn't prefer to watch a film of greater quality - one which is less likely to send his parents to sleep, such as 'Up' or 'How To Train Your Dragon'. The best family films effortlessly cross the age divide and assert themselves as plain good films. 'Rio' is inoffensive and far from terrible, but that's about all that can be said for it - and that shouldn't be enough.

'Rio' is rated 'U' in the UK and is on general release from today.

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