By Brian Lafferty
August 24, 2011 (San Diego) – The story is formulaic. The voice acting is rarely expressive. The musical numbers are largely forgettable except for one that will play on a loop in your head for a few days after you watch it. But nevermind. I sat in amazement while watching the Blu-Ray of Rio, not wanting to blink lest I miss a single frame of the animation.
Rio is about an orphaned Macaw named Blu (Jesse Eisenberg). One of the last two of his kind, he’s stolen from Rio by smugglers and winds up in Minnesota. He’s taken in and raised by Linda (Leslie Mann). Linda is persuaded by an ornithologist to bring Blu back to Rio, where he needs to mate with a female named Jewel (Anne Hathaway). He and Jewel are birdnapped by smugglers but escape, chained to each other a la Tony Curtis and Sidney Poitier in The Defiant Ones.
There is only one reason to see Rio and it’s a good one: the animation. It is among the best I’ve seen in a feature film outside of Pixar. Every shot of Rio de Janeiro is so rich and detailed that it made me want to visit the city. The jungles are among the most lush and greenest I’ve seen in an animated film. The beaches are bright, sandy, and sunny. A stunningly blue ocean surrounds the city.
The Blu-Ray transfer accentuates these details, including Luiz the Bulldog’s repulsive, but humorously gross slobber. All of the colors are bright and stark, the images crisp. All daytime scenes are bright and full of sunshine. Everything looks “hot” and sunny but you won’t feel the need to squint or don a pair of shades. At nighttime, the colors and light are “cool.” You know how in some places it gets really hot during the daytime but extremely cold at night? That’s what the colors and lighting of Rio reminds me of.
With kids films, it’s easy for animators and storywriters to go for predictable humor. Maybe the reasoning is that kids are young enough that they won’t anticipate jokes that grown-ups can see coming twenty miles away.
I laughed a lot of times at Rio. There is very little that’s predictable. It’s clear that the filmmakers wanted to cater to adults in addition to children. Many sight gags abound, all of which even the most seasoned kids movie viewer can’t see coming. The only weakness is the voice acting, which is mostly boring, with the exception of Tracy Morgan.
Rio is full of bonus features. I estimate I’ve spent about an hour to an hour and a half on them. They are mostly featurettes, which are a mixed bag. The best one is Saving the Species: One Voice at a Time. It mostly eschews the typical “patting on the back” mentality, although it does get repetitive at times; the phrase, “So-and-so brought such-and-such to the role,” is heard every time a voice actor is featured.
The best ones are the more interactive ones. There’s Explore the World of Rio, which gives educational bites about the city of Rio. This is a great thing to do with kids and it’s actually very informative. I learned a lot about Rio de Janeiro from it. Another fun one to do with kids is the Carnival Dance-O-Rama, which teaches you the Samba. After a couple of samba dances, I was worn out. I think my niece and nephew would enjoy it immensely.