Directed By: Carlos Saldanha
Starring The Voices Of: Jesse Eisenberg, Anne Hathaway, Leslie Mann, Jemaine Clement, Jamie Foxx, will.I.am, Rodrigo Santoro, George Lopez, Tracy Morgan
Is it a bad thing when the animation tells a better story than the characters’ dialogue? Can voice-over work really hamper a CGI cartoon? The answer to these interrogatories is both yes and no.
“Rio” is 96 minutes of splendid visuals and vibrant characters. The flick is flying high until some of them start to open their mouths. More specifically, beaks. Now one should know that yours truly screened this the morning after a healthy night of birthday celebrating. So although the professionalism of this review will remain high (well, by my standards), I do believe in full disclosure.
Blu (voiced by Jesse Eisenberg) is a macaw who was removed from his natural habitat at birth and happened to “land” in Minnesota. He was found by a young girl, who took the cute little guy in and raised him with an abundance of love. As Linda (voiced by Leslie Mann) and Blu look out for each other in their daily activities, a random young scientist named Tulio (Rodrigo Santoro) enters Linda’s book store and begs her to allow him to bring her and Blu to Rio de Janeiro. His reason is a noble one, for he wants to ensure the survival of the macaw species by having Blu mate with Jewel (voiced by Anne Hathaway).
Jewel is very independent and is confused by the domesticated behavior of Blu. All she wants to do is escape the conservation lab and fly free. Blu just wants to hang with Linda, but is suddenly love struck after meeting Jewel. Meanwhile, a group of thugs are trying to capture the rare species and sell the two non-love birds for a profit. With the help of their enforcer bird Nigel (voiced by Jemaine Clement), the chase is on for Blu and Jewel. Since Blu is unable to fend for himself in the wild (can’t fly, prefers to stay on the ground), they elicit help from a toucan named Rafael (voiced by George Lopez); who guides them around the city that is currently playing hosts to one of the biggest parties in the world…Carnival.
The animated Rio de Janeiro is depicted and shot beautifully. Your eyes will be fixated on how the cinematography captured the full-scope of the city while following the two birds through city streets and the surrounding forest. Mechanically speaking, there is not one issue to take up with how this was packaged. But the choosing of a few cast members will ruffle your feathers.
Jesse Eisenberg’s voice is just not doing it here. It feels awkward every time he talks. The natural charisma physically shown on screen, is negated by the lifeless dialogue. It’s funny how good actors sometimes fail with these voice over duties (Elijah Wood in “9” anyone?). On the other hand, Anne Hathaway is a prime example on how a voice can enhance a character. Thankfully the script attaches (literally) these two characters together for most of the story, so the audience is not stuck with just listening to the bland Blu.
Speaking of bland, this story is about as fundamental as they come. It reminds one of Lady and the Tramp, but doesn’t have the steady heartbeat that doggie love story/adventure emitted. The most touching scenes occur when no words are spoken in Rio. Especially in the opening and climatic moments. Yet everything between is just blah. If it wasn’t for the enticing camera work, and the colorful supporting cast, all ages would fly away from this piece.
Overall, Rio has the looks that kill (in a good way). Problem is, the story and some of the performances didn’t have the personality to match. The younger audiences will be entranced by the animation and the story is simplistic enough, where it will not zoom over their heads. However, not all the material will penetrate yours.
Review by Joe Belcastro