Blue Sky, Ice Age not withstanding, is known for simply exquisite and stunning CG environments (Robots is a must see) and did wonders with recreating the world of Rio. In their biggest film to date, the realism in textures and further the staggering amount of characters on screen just pop out at you…and that’s just in 2D. Now while, Rango has pretty much won this year’s “most realistic CG award” Rio still deserves as much credit as a powerhouse like Pixar for its level of detail. We’ve seen this kind of tale before but with lush landscapes and bright/funny characters, you don’t really mind the fact this is a rather ho hum and banal story.
Rio is the cute story of a young cerulean macaw who is taken from his native Rio de Janeiro and sold on the black market. By accident the truck he’s being transported in crashes and he is discovered by a young girl. Fast forward some years later and the macaw, named Blu, is happy and content being the flightless companion of the same girl Linda, now a bookstore owner, in frigid Minnesota. However Blu is now one of the last two existing cerulean macaws and an ornithological researcher named Tulio tries contacts Linda about his hopes to establish a macaw sanctuary. But local a poacher and his vile cockatoo pet have other monetary driven plans for such rare birds.
So there we are, set up for the series of events to follow but while I’m on board for any such fish out of water story (CG or otherwise) it’s the lead casting that takes me out of the film right off the bat. The casting of Jesse Eisenberg was sooo stereotypical it’s almost off-putting. Further as he’s becoming a capable young actor a role like this unfortunately only helps keep him rooted to those socially awkward roles he’s know for. In that case Micheal Cera would actually have been a better choice for Blu as this is almost beneath Eisenberg.
Next, Will.I.Am got on my nerves from pretty much the first scene. Moreover his pandering delivery is about as insulting and insincere as the Twins in Revenge of the Fallen. But the good news is that aside from those two everyone, no matter how brief (read: Wanda Sykes) was suited to their character. Leslie Mann (in a role refreshingly less foulmouthed) was divine as Linda but the most inspired choice for the villain was Flight of the Conchords alum Jemaine Clement who voiced Nigel. Usually big names are thrown at a film just to say “we’ve got big names in our film” but this time that formula and subsequent advertising actually paid off in a satisfying way.
While the story was cute the message is just another one that teaches youngsters to *queue After School Special music* believe in yourself and accept who you are (hmm, sounds a lot like that “you can shine no matter what you’re made of” line from Robots) it still gets the job done with its target audience in mind. Now as many animated films really don’t stretch the bounds of storytelling beyond familiar elements, it’s Rio’s achievements in animation that kept me interested.
On that note, I have to applaud Blue Sky for their continuous achievements in the detail of their rendered environments and quote the great Brad Bird (no pun intended) who said that “The wonderful thing about animation is you have absolute control over every frame. The nightmare of animation is that you have absolute control over every frame. Literally, you have to decide upon everything, and you don’t get anything for free. You can’t go to a location and simply say, ‘This looks good,’ and shoot there. You have to discuss what kind of trees, is it a railyard, how wide are the tracks, are the tracks new or old? The amount of planning you have to do is just jaw-dropping.” And based on the eye candy visuals in Rio, it makes sense that making Rio was no small feat. Man, after seeing this and being amazed at how far CG has come, I’m kind of glad I’m not an animator.
Sure Rio is targeted at younger kids and it shows from the slapstick jokes and songs to break up the story (usually a sign they don’t really have much of a story to tell) but it was a much better film than I think people would give it credit. Wacky colorful characters abound and as such outshine the already thin story just a tad. Plus side is that the handful of grown-up oriented jokes are pretty well crafted. If you came for anything more you have to remind yourself, “this is a kids movie and this isn’t Pixar“. And at least this didn’t have Ben Stiller.