Birds of a different feather flock together in Rio, Carlos Saldanha's joyous carnival of animation celebrating avian (and human) biodiversity. Winging and singing creatures frolic in Brazil's capital of fun. Storks samba! Toucans tumba! Parrots party in kaleidoscopic formations to the music of Sergio Mendes!
For Rio-born Saldanha, imaginative director of Ice Age and Robots, the featured breed is the Indigo Macaw, an endangered species gorgeously rendered by animation artists and hilariously realized by the vocal talents of Jesse Eisenberg and Anne Hathaway. Between his tentativeness and her certainty, they deliver the most touching voice work outside of Albert Brooks and Ellen DeGeneres in Finding Nemo.
Blu (Eisenberg), a cerulean cutie birdnapped before he learns to fly, is adopted by Linda (Leslie Mann), a bookish Minnesota gal who doesn't know that poachers smuggled her pet out of Brazil.
Ignorant of his tropical roots, Blu thrives in snowbound Minnesota until Tulio (Rodrigo Santoro), a Brazilian ornithologist, comes to the frozen north to proposition Linda.
Given that the Indigo Macaw is just about extinct, why not mate Blu with the Macaw femme down at his Rio bird sanctuary? And given that his female, Jewel (Anne Hathaway), is as audacious as Blu is timid, the table is perfectly set for a banquet of romance and adventure.
Give Saldanha's film an A-plus for visuals and a B-minus for story. From its favelas (shantytowns) to Copacabana Beach, from Sugarloaf Mountain to the gliders circling Corcovado, where the statue of Christ the Redeemer welcomes Cariocas and tourists, Rio is a work of soaring beauty.
It almost seems uncharitable to mention that the film's looks, sound, and characters are better developed than the story about the rare Macaws ducking a new generation of smugglers. This production from Blue Sky Studios has almost everything a family audience could want: great music, dazzling imagery, engaging characters, including birds voiced by George Lopez, Jamie Foxx, and will.i.am. Everything except the primal bait (think parent/child separation or child/toy separation or husband/wife separation) that Pixar Animation Studios uses to capture its audiences.
For all of Rio's tutti-frutti G-rated beauty, it is awfully vanilla. Still, I laughed. Especially at the sight of a drooling bulldog in Carmen Miranda's tutti-frutti hat, voiced by Tracy Morgan.