Starring (the voices of): Jesse Eisenberg, Anne Hathaway, Leslie Mann, Jamie Foxx, Jermaine Clement, Jake T. Austin, Tracy Morgan, Wanda Sykes

Director: Carlos Saldanha

Writer(s): Don Rhymer

Cinematography: Renato Falcao

Original Score: John Powell

Running Time: 110 Mins.

We are inundated with CGI toons, one or two are great (How To Train Your Dragon, Toy Story 3), many are mediocre (Shrek Forever After, Despicable Me) and a lot are downright poor and crammed with pop culture references meaning that they are far from timeless (A Sharks Tale, Hoodwinked). In fact when it comes to the great ones Dreamworks and Pixar have the market cornered, Ice Age was 20th Century Fox’s first major crack at the market and succeeded, if only financially, so that they turn to that film’s director (Carlos Saldanha) is hardly a surprise in seeking a new franchise for Blue Sky Studies (Fox’s CGI outlet). The question is can Rio prove as financially successful (likely), but more importantly for me is the question as to whether it can actually help Blue Sky compete with Pixar et al in terms of quality?

Well for a start Rio is infinitely better than Ice Age, better voice acting, better action scenes and really rather beautiful to look at with the bright and bold palette afforded to the film as a result of the location and setting. Colour isn’t the only benefit of having your film set in Rio, having grown up there Saldanha clearly has a feel for the place meaning that it is jaunty, fun and being set during the festival has a wonderful upbeat nature, similarly it doesn’t shy away from showing us the shanty towns (albeit briefly) though only a fool would expect the slums to feature heavily in a kids toon, I’ve a feeling even Pixar would even shy away from showing extreme poverty!

So if we are offered a refreshing change in visuals that mark the film out as unique the narrative is as old-hat as it gets, an odd couple story that you just know will end in true love conquering all that sees the central protagonists Blu and Jewel seeking a return to their respective dream lives (as a preening, pampered pet and back to nature free-bird) having been kidnapped by bird smugglers who are aided by a cockatoo called Nigel, so far so cliched…and it doesn’t end there! All manner of creatures come out to help the feathered friends including a bulldog, a toucan and a young orphan child! It is here that Rio is held back from being great and teeters on the great/mediocre border.

Keeping the great end up is the voice cast, halfway to being novelty by having big names for the sake of big names, thankfully though for every slightly misjudged cliché (Will I Am and Jamie Foxx) there is a great pitch perfect performance, Jesse Eisneberg is the standout and seems to have been made to play Blu with his voice matching the birds mannerisms tic for tic, similarly Jemiane Clement is genius casting and even gets a song, in fact I just wish he had MORE screen-time because the man is a comedy god! Tracey Morgan is fun but barely registers appearing late in the day while Hathaway could of been pretty much any actress for al the distinctiveness she brings to Jewel, so not phoned in but hardly breaking the mould.

Ultimately there is little not too like, and quibbling over a hackneyed plot seems moot in the face of a great way to tell said story even if the cast is a little lumbering at times in the face of sheer celebrity voices. It can nark at times when the voice cast overwhelm the characters as all too often happens in the face of “stunt casting”, but when the voice fits the face it makes one hell of a difference which is what marks Rio out against the likes of A Sharks Tale and the rather dull Ice Age films, in fact it is hard to think the same director has managed to craft a film that is so much further from being boring, something that makes the inevitable Rio 2 a welcome prospect.

VERDICT

In the end it is easy to try to pick holes but the good far outweighs any weakness, Clement’s inspired turn for a start and the perfect casting of Eisenberg…Rio proves to be a fun, bright and breezy effort.


 

 

 

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