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Feature


During a poacher raid in a Brazilian rainforest a baby blue macaw is captured and sold to a little girl in Moose Lake, Minnesota. Named ‘Blu’, the macaw (Jesse Eisenberg) and girl, Linda (Leslie Mann) grow up together. Living indoors in the frozen north, Blu never learns to fly, and is generally a bit of a shut-in. One day an ornothonisist named Túlio (Rodrigo Santoro) informs Linda that Blu is the last male of his kind, and suggests he be taken to Rio de Janeiro where he can be bred with a captive female named Jewel (Anne Hathaway). Both Linda and Blu are hesitant, but eventually agree, and accompany Túlio back to Brazil, where Blu meets Jewel, only to find out the two macaws have nothing in common beyond their species. Things are further complicated when Blu and Jewel are kidnapped and chained together.

Rio
Some day a major studio will grow the balls required to make an entirely wordless animated animal adventure. Disney threatened to do it with 2000’s Dinosaur, Pixar pulled off half a wordless animated robot adventure with Wall-E, and the best parts of Blue Sky’s Ice Age films are always the relatively self-contained Scrat sequences, but no one ever has the courage to leave audiences entirely without traditional language dialogue. It seems that a bird-based adventure set in the rain forest with a strong musical presence would be ideal, and when we watch the animal protagonists of Rio through the human characters eyes we get a glimpse of what might have been. The dialogue is also generally not very good, and simple expressions, glances and squawks could’ve sufficed in almost every case. Sure, there are a few interactions that require dialogue to make total sense, but none of these are important to this rather plot-sparse production, and what we’re left with is yet another perfectly entertaining, and perfectly forgettable Blue Sky motion picture.

The people at Blue Sky may need some lessons in writing and developing original concepts, but their animators continue to impress, and at this point have really developed a distinct set of skills. They don’t do emotions as well as Pixar, and DreamWorks seems to be pushing for the epic scale crown with stuff like How to Train Your Dragon, but Blue Sky’s character animation is top of the line. The character work is so good at points that it overcomes some really obnoxious performances, especially on the parts of will.i.am and Jaime Foxx. With the sound off Pedro and Nico are actually pretty funny, which of course just goes to help prove my ‘this would be better without dialogue’ point. The majority of the vocal performances are reasonably solid, but Flight of the Concords performer Jemaine Clement steals every scene as the birdly villain. Clement is so amusing I assume he wrote much of his own dialogue (apparently animation tests were made using dialogue from the show). Generally speaking it’s difficult to care too much about any of the characters, but the humans are the biggest waste of space, and the human heavy scenes are usually a bore in terms of character, plot, and even animation.

Rio
At the very least, just below the amusing character animation, Rio pays homage to the beauty of Brazil, both the natural landscapes (rain forest, sandy beaches), to the contrasting cultures (tourists and the wealthy, versus the poor). The film was directed by Carlos Saldanha, a born native of Rio de Janeiro (who originally pitched the film as being about a penguin in Ipanema, but changed the main character to a macaw after Happy Feet and Surf’s Up were released in quick succession), aims his effective animator’s eye sharply at the area, presenting a surprisingly complex and epic cartoon representation similar to that of 2005’s Robots, which he co-directed with Chris Wedge ( Robots being another visually sumptuous, but unfunny, generally shallow-minded animated film). Not surprisingly the Rio de Janeiro presented in the G-rated Rio isn’t nearly as devastated by poverty as the real Rio, but the screenwriters do touch on the slums and crime, and even make one of the human protagonists one of the ‘lost boys’ of Brazil. There’s no mistaking this bird adventure for City of God or anything, but I appreciate the effort in not glossing over the crappy parts of the otherwise very pretty city.

Video


Here comes another one of those boring video section were I simply verify that, yes, this direct digital 1080p Blu-ray transfer looks pretty much perfect. Rio is a celebration of vibrant, eyeball melting colours, so clearly Blu-ray is the way to go for this particular title. The whole movie is swimming in bright, primary hues, with the beach umbrella crashing and Carnaval sequences standing apart from the pack. The production really embraces the 3D format (I assume, this is the 2D copy I’m reviewing), and pushes the digital depth of field to some gorgeous extremes, and in many scales. The flying scenes are the obvious frontrunners in this respect, but the sequence that introduces the thieving marmosets gets my vote for contrasting elements, like candy coloured tourist garb, shiny bits of gold and silver, and lush background forests. Details are always sharp, but the animators mostly chose edges and contrasting hues over texture to maintain the generally more cartoony look. Feathers are an exception, and are effectively different from bird to bird, defining each animal’s character beyond body shape and colour. Compression noise is practically non-existent, just watch the footage on the special features for a comparison.

Rio

Audio


More surprises pile up as I reveal that the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack is also pretty much flawless. The film tears through the gate with a massively noisy musical number, complete with multiple channel vocal harmonies, and impossible to resist rhythm sections that attempt to blast your LFE equipment to pieces. As a system shower-offer this sequence is enough to give the whole disc a pass. Music holds such a large sway over the production that the flying and chase scenes aren’t exactly top of the line in terms of sound effects editing, but there’s enough air rush to appropriately convey movement and scale. There is a small problem with the dialogue track maintaining consistent volume. Usually the mix is solid, but there were a few times the vocals blared louder than expected, often mid scene. Jemaine Clement’s performances are especially loud, and all the musical performance sequences are a bit center heavy for my taste. As stated, music plays a massive role in the film (almost as big as that of George Miller’s Happy Feet), and not so surprisingly the music works much better when it sticks pretty strictly to classic samba roots, the major exception being ‘Pretty Bird’, which was co-written by Jemaine Clement.

Rio

Extras


The disc starts with a pleasant surprise – an animated short staring Scrat the…whatever Scrat is, from the Ice Age films (2:40, HD). Technically this is a trailer for Ice Age: Continental Drift, but anyone that has seen any of the Ice Age movies knows that the Scrat bits are the best bits, and that nibbles are better than mouthfuls, so enjoy this short, and skip the movie next year. On the actual menu extras start with a deleted scene entitled ‘Fruit Stand’ (1:30, HD), which is presented with final voice work, temp effects, and in storyreel form. ‘Explore the World of Rio’ is an interactive map of Rio de Janeiro, including the city, the jungle, the stadium and the beach. Each location features a series of video and text-based extras, and image galleries that describe the real life location. ‘Saving the Species: One Voice at a Time’ (25:30, HD) takes a little time to interview the director, crew and voice cast in EPK form. It’s quite pleasant, and briefly covers the vocal and animation processes, including improv, and filming video reference. I’m guessing it played on the Fox Movie Channel or something. ‘The Making of Hot Wings’ (8:00, HD) is a behind the scenes look at will.i.am producing a song for the film, including him recording Jaime Foxx, and discussing his love of Samba music (critical discussion is not his strongest suit, apparently). ‘Boom-Boom Tish-Tish: The Sounds of Rio’ (13:30, HD) explores the film’s musical roots, including the hiring of the legendary Sergio Mendes as the executive music producer, and an all-star team of musicians. The last sizable featurette is ‘The Real Rio’ (9:30, HD), a look at the process of capturing the city in CG animation form. The disc also features ‘Canival Dance-O-Rama’, a sort of dance lesson/game, a ‘Welcome to Rio’ music video, a ‘Telling the World’ music video, a ‘Rio de Jam-eiro Jukebox’ option, ‘Postcards from Rio’ creator, a trailer, and an ‘Angry Birds Rio’ trailer, mash-up, and clue video.

Rio

Overall


Rio is a forgettable hunk of animated entertainment, but has enough going for it to make it worth at least a single viewing. The imagery is gorgeous and colourful, the character animation is intricate, the chase sequences are exhilarating, and Jemaine Clement makes a great evil Cockatoo. It’s all enough to make enduring the dull plotting, and lack of laughs worth the effort. This Blu-ray release is vibrant and sharp, sounds pretty good (never overly impressive), and features a few amusing extras.

*Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray image quality.


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