20th Century Fox Animation and Blue Sky Studios hit all the right notes with their Ice Age trilogy, a series that I had unabashedly enjoyed, and for their follow up feature with director Carlos Saldanha, the icy cool pre-historic environment got traded for the land of contemporary Samba warmth. Still dealing with talking animals as characters, there was this sense of constant dread while watching Rio as it really tried too hard to entertain and to sustain that party atmosphere, and the filmmakers seem to have run out of tricks in their formula bag to keep one entertained.
Then it dawned upon me that I have grown up, lost that sense of wonderment a kid would have, and probably have been spoilt by Rango. Rango showed the heights that animated feature films can reach if they do not try to dumb it down for the kids, and is more adult orientated fare that didn't have to rely on cutesy characters created just to make kids want to buy their plush toy versions, or to allow for some of the easily impressionable female crowd to go gaga over. It had spirit and a tremendous story at its core, never really needing to rely on the cheap milking of emotions. Rio had gone overboard when you discover that their designs and crafting of cute characters equals baby, small, round, fat, and to speak funny. I see plush toys rolling off the assembly line already.
You would already know the story inside out if you had paid attention to the trailers for Rio. And having the screenplay written by Don Rhymer didn't exactly spell confidence, given his filmography thus far with the Big Momma series, and a number of sequels like Santa Clause 2 and Agent Cody Banks 2, which spell direct to video business. Perhaps the only bright spark that I had enjoyed from Rhymer was his Surf's Up, but alas Rio wasn't as innovative in narrative, following a set path of a pair of would-be love birds hating each other's guts, having to duke it out while chained to each other and finally emerge as winners to reclaim their freedom and walk, well, fly into the sunset together. Sounds like a typical opposites attract romantic tale to me.
Loaded with plenty of characters who talk too much, one cannot deny that it has star power at its side that will positively impact its appeal factor. There's the newly minted "It" stars like Jesse Eisenberg who plays Blu the blue macaw with the same whiny, nerdy demeanour Eisdenberg is known to play (someone spell stereotype already), while Anne Hathaway tackles Jewel the spirited female blue macaw in extremely bland fashion, probably the least interesting bird character amongst the lot. Chipping in are Leslie Mann as Blu's owner Linda, who goes into a parallel love story of her own as well with bird scientist Tulio (Rodrigo Santoro), Flight of the Conchords' Jermaine Clement as the villainous bully Nigel, and with others such as will.i.am, Jamie Foxx, Tracy Morgan and George Lopez, who is lending his voice to too many animal characters already for crying out loud.
Animation wise, Rio allowed Blue Sky Studios to dabble in richer and warmer colours across a wider spectrum, and this validates that the studio isn't a one-environment wonder with its bevy of colours filling up the entire screen from the get go, with realistic, vivid textures that compensates not having real animals up there. And the film plays like a musical with just about every Samba tune conceivable packaged into bubblegum pop, never letting go of any chance to chant "RIO" every now and then. Like how many complain about Bollywood movies padding their run time with its musical numbers, Rio is also guilty of the same, making it seem way longer than its 96 minute runtime. There also wasn't any scenes that stood out to exploit the 3D aspects, so save your money and go for the 2D version instead.
Maybe it's reflective of my current mood or age has caught up with me, or perhaps I now realize I prefer my stories with a lot more grit than fluff. I had expected more, but Rio stayed well within its comfort zone. Definitely targeted at the younger crowd, and the still young at heart who like their characters develop according to formula, and designed with bright colours to stay cute and cuddly (damn, there I said it)!