When I panned ‘Hop’ a couple of weeks ago, a friend of mine said, “It doesn’t matter – all kids care about is whether or not it’s funny.” This might be true, but it also isn’t an excuse, especially in an age of Pixar and ‘Fantastic Mr. Fox’ and ‘Rango’. Which brings us to… ‘Rio’. Seemingly born out of the “Let’s see what cute animals we can stick together” grab bag, this movie is often times visually stupendous, but doesn’t truly dazzle on any real level.
‘Rio’ opens with a musical number introducing us to the colorful, bird-filled world of South America. A tiny blue-tinged hatchling falls out of its nest and is scooped up by a poacher, who ships the bird off to snowy Minnesota. That’s where he meets a kindly young girl who takes him in, and the two become lifelong pals. The girl grows up to be a woman (Leslie Mann) and the bird grows up to be the nebbish Blu (Jessie Eisenberg), who turns out to be a very rare parrot.
A kindly scientist (Rodrigo Santoro) comes to Minnesota to recruit Blu. He has a similar female parrot named Jewel (Anne Hathaway, at the very least better than she was at the Oscars). They could restart the species, but first the bookish Blu has to come to Rio.
Of course, from there things just get wacky. Blu and Jewel get caught by a villainous cockatoo and eventually escape to the jungle while shackled together. It’s then that the movie turns into a typical buddy comedy, with the wild, adventurous Jewel forced to contend with Blu’s neurosis (he can’t even fly!). None of this makes much sense or engages in any real way, although the flying sequences, rendered in eye-popping 3D, occasionally jazz.
Watching colorful birds soar and occasionally sing (this is sort-of a musical, which none of the marketing materials suggest) isn’t enough. At the end of the day, you don’t really care about anything that goes on here. They’re just brightly colored distractions which, granted, are sometimes amusing, but so are some soup commercials. You really get no insight into the characters (some of whom just show up and disappear for reasons unrelated to plot). The movie is also oddly sexualized, particularly in the Carnival sequences, without ever engaging in the central plot conceit of the birds having to mate to save their species. Apparently, humans shaking their asses and appearing half naked are okay, but birds? Nah, that’s icky.