RIO is as bright, fun, and dramatic as the Brazilian Carnivale where its final chase takes place. The animated musical as a whole is one exhilarating race to restore a bird to his human companion, thwart an evil gang of bird smugglers, and make sure that love conquers all. Eventually.
The bird is Blu (Jesse Eisenberg), a blue macaw stolen from his home in the rain forest before he learned how to fly. Ending up in the unlikeliest of places, Minnesota, he is adopted by Linda (Leslie Mann). For fifteen years, they are inseparable and though Blu has never learned to fly, he has become handy around the house and learned to take the taunting of the local wild birds in stride. All is well until Tulio (Rodrigo Santoro), a gawky ornithologist from Brazil arrives with the surprising announcement that Blu is the last male of his species, and Tulio needs him in Rio to meet the last female blue macaw, Jewel (Anne Hathaway), newly removed from the wild, in order to let nature take its course and save the species from extinction. They arrive just in time for Carnivale, but, alas, the glitter and glamour do nothing to charm Jewel, who is more interested in escaping than mating. Further alas, Blu has arrived just as a dastardly plot is hatched by Marcel (Carlos Ponce) to steal the residents in Tulios bird sanctuary and sell them to the highest bidder.
Blu and Jewel find themselves chained together, grounding them both, as the smugglers and their cohort, Nigel (Jermaine Clement), a crazed cockatoo with thespian tendencies and no mercy, are hot on their trail, with Linda and Tulio in pursuit of all of them.
There is a nice attention to character detail, making the denizens who occupy this flick vivid, and driving it all with a real sense of the warmth between Blu and Linda. Macaws may not take to hot cocoa in real life, but Blus attachment to the perfect ration of mini-marshmallows in that beverage doesnt seem a stretch in this context. Nor does his constant babbling of random facts gleaned from his years at Lindas side in her bookshop. The supporting roles have less depth, but the toucan (George Lopez) who takes Blu under his wing, so to speak, has the right sort of comic relief also found in Nico and Pedro (Jamie Foxx and will i am), a pair of party birds who break into infectiously buoyant song when not pondering the mystery of why Blu would rather stay in his cage than soar over Rio. The animation takes full advantage of its South American setting, roseate spoonbills flutter over the Sugarloaf, marmosets swarm, and a determined visitor from Minnesota bashes through the favela of the titular city in search of her stolen macaw. Its at its best, story- and animation-wise, with the romance, avian and human, which is sweet in a goofy rather than syrupy way. With little to work with in bird physiognomy, the animators have found a way to make the eyes startlingly expressive without violating an inordinate number of the many inherent restrictions. The voice component adds to it, with Eisenbergs earnest if tentative mutter contrasting with Hathaways determined purr. Attempting to have them kiss, as inevitably they do, however, with such prodigious beaks was perhaps ill-advised. On the other end of the emotional spectrum, in Nigel, animation has found a singularly creepy villain, and Nigel has found in Clement a voice that has the soothing voice of the most dangerous sociopath.
The adventure is high-pitched, with twists and turns as unexpected as they are fast-paced. Pursuers and pursued speed through the streets, over rooftops, and in the air exploiting all manner of conveyances and the many moods of an adrenalin rush. Even so, it takes time to make a few salient points about effective conservation. The ending is never really in doubt, but how RIO gets there makes the most of its giddy sort of mayhem.