Starring the voices of: Jesse Eisenberg, Anne Hathaway, Leslie Mann, Rodrigo Santoro
Directed by: Carlos Saldanha
Blu (Eisenberg) is a Spix’s macaw, captured as a baby by illegal animal smugglers and shipped to the States – but he’s lucky enough to have been delivered to Minnesota and comes into the care of Linda (Leslie Mann), a kind, intelligent and beautiful bookstore-owner. He’s the last male of his kind. Independent, free-spirited and sultry Jewel (Hathaway) is also a Spix’s macaw. She is the last female of her kind.
Ornithology professor Tulio (Rodrigo Santoro) comes to Linda, requesting that she bring Blu to Rio de Janeiro to meet Jewel. They have to get to know each other, as Blu’s city-pet ways annoy Jewel even as she warms to him. However, the real threat is the vicious smugglers on both their feathered tails.
A remarkable piece of storytelling and a success on every level from the animation to the humour, the music to the madcap action sequences, Rio is a very polished film. The story flies straight on, never losing its aim, right to an edge-of-your seat sequence onboard the smugglers’ plane, right out of the best action thrillers. It opens with a sequence straight out of Disney’s “The Little Mermaid”: birds singing and dancing happily – cut immediately short by them being brutally trapped and ruthlessly spirited away.
This opening scene establishes the tone effectively: colourful cartoony spectacle leavened with a sensitively well-told (and surprisingly un-preachy) conservation message. The script is sharp, almost every line side-splittingly hilarious. The film looks utterly gorgeous, native Brazillian director Saldanha offering not only gorgeous vistas of the Carnivale and the majestic Christo Redentor statue, but also an unflinchingly gritty look at the favela slums and the dirty world of underground wildlife trading.
The voice cast is uniformly superb. Jesse Eisenberg is the standout in addition to being the lead. The Academy-Award nominee plays a nerd, just as he did in The Social Network. However, unlike his character Mark in that film, Blue is a nice, “adorkable” one – bookish, socially awkward, but very sweet, his initial lucklessness with the girl reminding this reviewer of himself. Hathaway provides a wonderful foil for him, feisty and sultry, but also sensitive and kind when required – and, she showcases her golden pipes in several musical numbers.
The main human characters of Linda and Tulio are also a joy to watch, the both of them also sharing a romance that progresses as sweetly and realistically as that of the two birds. Every other character in the film serves a purpose too. Usually, ensemble-cast animated films are a big waste of voice talent, but here none of the characters are superfluous, from the villainous sulphur-crested cockatoo Nigel (Jemaine Clement channelling Tim Curry at his deliciously evil best), to Rafael (George Lopez), a gregarious, family-man Toucan who is always on hand to offer the hapless Blu some much-needed love advice. Also listen out for Tracy Jordan, Jamie Foxx, Will.i.am., Jake T. Austin and others.
A wholly stunning experience not to be missed, Rio is packed with astonishing visuals, a good well-told story, comedy, romance and poignancy. This is something you wish every animated film was, and you could be well forgiven for mistaking this for a Pixar film. Yep, it’s that good.
SUMMARY: Ratatouille meets The Little Mermaid and Princess and the Frog with some Beauty and the Beast and Up thrown in, and deserving of the mean score of all those films.
RATING: 4/5 STARS