One struggles to come up with something interesting to say about Rio, which works hard to be as staunchly uninteresting as possible. I can say this: it was unexpected, and it’s kind of cool, that the producers of what is clearly intended to be another ultra-profitable animated franchise in the vein of Ice Age would cast nerdy, neurotic, squeaky-voiced Jesse Eisenberg as its hero – an exotic talking parrot who goes on an adventure in Brazil’s capital city, dodging poachers, learning to fly, and falling in love with the only remaining female of his species (Anne Hathaway) before flapping his way back to his kindly, concerned owner (Leslie Mann).
I’ll admit to a certain jadedness. From my perspective, the folks at Pixar, and on rare occasions the folks at Dreamworks Animation, are the only ones doing anything worthwhile in the family animation space. Everything else tends to take the form of mid-range kiddie entertainment like Rio — undistinguished pageantry with some chase scenes, a few colorful song-and-dance numbers, and a cast of racial caricatures. These films – and I am thinking here of Madagascar 2, Monsters vs. Aliens, Shark Tale, Despicable Me, the Ice Age films, etc. — may be shrill and uninspiring, hawking hollow platitudes along with the all the blinking, flashing sound and fury, but they get the job done, assuming the job is babysitting.
Rio is a prime example. There’s a hero, and a spunky love interest, some unmemorable villains (poachers who aim to sell the rare birds, though it is unclear who would want them, or for what purpose), their evil enforcer parrot, and a pair of sassy ethnic sidekicks (will.i.am and Jamie Foxx). The hero doesn’t know how to fly – because, we’re told, he thinks too much and doesn’t feel enough. (Query whether “stop thinking so much” is really a good message to be sending to kids.) The movie makes the explicit suggestion that it is imperative that the two protagonists fuck – and then promptly forgets it (why even bother?).
I laughed maybe twice, most notably at Eisenberg explaining why he doesn’t actually like samba. I admired the beautifully rendered animated cityscapes – if nothing else, the movie really made me want to visit Rio de Janeiro. I had my taste thoroughly offended by what Rio considered acceptable musical numbers – the same auto-tuned, Latin- and hip-hop-“influenced” monstrosities that are currently clogging up the Top 40 airwaves. If you were waiting for a mainstream animated musical to feature a rap song, you’ll get your wish – but you may end up regretting it.
Look, I don’t hate this stupid movie. It’s a run-of-the-mill timewaster, pretty and energetic; it’ll keep the kids entertained. But these big-budget computer-animated tentpole releases, though they may all run together, are not all created equal. Rio is deep in the lower echelons. If you’re expecting Wall-E, Finding Nemo, or even Megamind, adjust your expectations.