The problem facing Rio, the latest animated movie from Blue Sky Studios, is that the bar for movies of its ilk has been lifted really very high in the past year or two alone.
DreamWorks Animation’s How To Train Your Dragon, Sony’s Cloud With A Chance Of Meatballs, Paramount’s extraordinary Rango, Illumination Studios’ Despicable Me, Pixar’s Toy Story 3 and Disney’s Tangled are the peak of a strong collection of films. It’s not for nothing, therefore, that many believe we’re in the midst of a whole new golden age of animation.
Sadly for Rio, even though it has moments where it genuinely looks extraordinary, it’s cooked from a very familiar recipe book. There’s the reluctant couple. The interrupted kisses. Comedy sidekicks. A bit of music. A sledgehammer moral. It blends together decently enough, but there’s little threat to the movies mentioned just a paragraph back.
The story sort of mirrors Rango very early on, but not for long. An exotic macaw, whom we come to know as Blu, finds himself transported from Brazil to Minnesota, where he falls off the back of a truck. There, he’s discovered by Linda, who takes him in and the two live happily side by side for many years. That’s until, out of the blue, a man called Tulio arrives, claiming that Blu is the only male of his sort left and he needs to, well, procreate with the only female, Jewel. It’s one of those survival of the species things.
With seemingly little thought, off they all pop back to Brazil, and it’s here that the film occasionally sparks into life. For the screen positively explodes with colour, even accounting for the muting effect of the obligatory 3D glasses, and director Carlos Saldanha (of the Ice Age movies) ensures his frames glisten with detail. And you have to say right here that some of the animation work is simply exquisite. Technically, it’s a hard film to fault.
But then, in come the rent-a-story elements again. Jewel and Blu inevitably don’t hit it off and we’re back with a feisty female and dorkish male (Tangled showed that you can find a middle ground through that kind of story quagmire). So, we have to watch them go through the motions, and we’re also constantly reminded that Blu can’t fly. But will he be able to learn?
Throw in a villainous bird called Nigel, a gang of poachers and the need for Blu and Jewel to ultimately become close, and it’s not too tricky to glue the story elements together within a very short space of time.
That aside, Rio has one or two things in its favour. Firstly, it’s quite witty, and its gag hit rate really isn’t bad. It’s also got some smart voice casting, primarily Jesse Eisenberg as Blu and Jemaine Clement as Nigel. And the big sequences, most notably the action moments, and a terrific big third act, colour-filled event, really do cut the mustard.
Yet, there’s little getting away from the fact that everyone else seems to be taking some element of risk or trying new things with their animated movies, and Blue Sky has resisted the urge to do so. There’s a point in the film where I wondered if it’d follow the poaching thread that it hinges part of its story on, yet it never commits to it. It’s simply a means to an end.
And that’s, really, the best way to approach Rio. If it’s 90-odd minutes of utterly safe, family entertainment you seek (and there is a place and demand for just that, so I’m not being snooty), then you’ll be fine here. Rio‘s very well made, professionally packaged, and hard not to enjoy.
But by consequence of its choices, it’s a hard film to really like that much, either. It’ll be successful, certainly, but the bar really has been set higher than Blue Sky, in narrative terms at least, seems to be aiming for.
Lionel Richie comes out of it well, mind.
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